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On Trauma


And now, as we approach the end of this first lesson, we present a poem which does deal with trauma but is at the margins of Holocaust poetry.

The trauma described here is occasioned by warfare, the occupation of Poland and the attendant results on literature, culture, human behaviour and society, and life itself. It does not deal directly with the Holocaust but presents the trauma of the horrendous German occupation in general terms.

This poem, called “The Survivor”, was written by Tadeusz Różewicz (“The Survivor” and Other Poems, p. 7), a Polish resistance fighter, and translated by Adam Czerniawski. Różewicz was born in 1921 and became one of the leading Polish poets of his generation. He died in 2014.

The Survivor

I am twenty-four

led to slaughter

I survived.

The following are empty synonyms:

man and beast

love and hate

friend and foe

darkness and light.

The way of killing men and beasts is the same

I’ve seen it:

truckfuls of chopped-up men

who will not be saved.

Ideas are mere words:

virtue and crime

truth and lies

beauty and ugliness

courage and cowardice.

Virtue and crime weigh the same

I’ve seen it:

in a man who was both

criminal and virtuous.

I seek a teacher and a master

may he restore my sight hearing and speech

may he again name objects and ideas

may he separate darkness from light.

I am twenty-four

led to slaughter

I survived.

This poem contains positive and negative elements presenting a window of optimism for the future from within hard past history. In the comments section below, share your sense of which element is ascendant.

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Poetry and the Holocaust

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