Skip main navigation

What is the value of Holocaust poetry?

The memory of the Holocaust has been invaluably enriched by poets providing a window into a period that is very difficult to comprehend

Poetry can complement our knowledge and awareness of the Holocaust.

The famous Jewish-German sociologist Theodor Adorno, who fled the Nazi regime for England in 1934, proclaimed shortly after the war that writing poetry after Auschwitz seemed barbaric (Adorno, Theodor W. 1983. “Cultural Criticism and Society.” In Prisms, 17–34. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p. 34).

In his view, words in any artistic configuration were doomed to distort the harsh experiences of victims and survivors, constituting some kind of disfigurement of truth. He later modified his initial position with the passing of time. Adorno’s vision expressed his fear for the trivialisation of the Holocaust.

Enriching the memory

The memory of the Holocaust has also been invaluably enriched by poets providing us with a window into a period that is very difficult to comprehend. Numerous Holocaust-related anthologies have been published in many languages in recent years, and these poems can often be an excellent educational resource.

It has been said that what the historian achieves in a book, the poet presents in 10 or 20 lines. Poetry can say more in less and sometimes more succinctly. When a poem adheres, a truth has been stated. That truth is the poet’s own experience and poetry can often awaken empathy and strike a chord with readers.

This article is from the free online

Poetry and the Holocaust

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education