Remnants – dVerse Poetics / WordPress Daily Prompt

Krakow_ghetto_wall_&_home

I remember
the flaking paint
the silvered wood
the empty chair memorial
in the silent square
the milling group
– hardly a crowd – silenced
I remember
the ghost memories, phantom scars
pressing, beseeching, begging, needing
I remember the darkness beyond those doors –
those doors that had witnessed
tragedies a thousand-fold
the cold-sweat terrors
the children torn from their parents’ grasp
I remember
in hindsight –
I remember

Kraków_Ghetto_and_Jewish_Deportation_Holocaust_Memorial,_May_2012

I thought I would try to write my entry today for both dVerse Poetics – where the theme is ‘doors’, thank you Lillian for hosting – and the WordPress Daily Prompt – where the theme is ‘Generation’. I hope I succeeded!

Both of the images are from the Krakow Ghetto, where I was fortunate to visit (if that’s the right word) a few years ago. The empty chair memorial is incredibly moving, for me in the lump in the throat kind of a way. The homes, the remnants, which are still inhabited, are dilapidated, and I can hardly imagine what the conditions must have been like during the ghetto’s existence. The picture at the top is of one of the houses, behind one of the few remaing parts of the ghetto wall. (I didn’t take these particular photos).

Anyway, if you want to read other writer’s offerings, or take part yourself in either or both of these writing prompts, please click the links above.

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Tikvah

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There I was just standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden.

I wished I had more strength, wished I was more brave, wished I had the strength of my grandmother. Even now I could feel her downy cheek on mine as she had grasped the back of my neck with her surprisingly strong fingers, pressing her lips to my ear.

“Don’t let them break you, Esther. Do what is right.” She had kissed my forehead, the remnants of the perfume she always wore enveloping me in its warm familiarity.

They had dragged her away, a useless old woman, of no benefit, just a drain on finite resources. Dispensable.

I had hated them for that more than anything else. It burned in my chest. And yet…

I stared through the hole in the wall at the shop across the street, a street alien to me now even though it was only a moment away from where we lived. It was brightly lit, swarming with gaily dressed people like so many butterflies dancing above a wildflower meadow. The smell of freshly baked bread teased my nostrils and my stomach yawed and ached with hunger.

“If you don’t take chances,” said the man in the striped pajamas,”you might as well not be alive.”

I had seen him many times before, crouching in the gutter, holding his hand out for anything that a passer by might press into his cracked palm. I doubted he had the strength to stand. Every time we met, I tried to give him something that could be spared without Mutti noticing.

He was leaning against the wall, legs shaking with the effort. “Don’t be like me. Don’t let them break you.”

The words echoed bell-like.

“You have a child?” he asked, his voice barely a croak.

“Yes.”

He beckoned me towards him, pulling me close with surprising strength, whispering in my ear.

“Let me distract them when the gate opens. Get food for your child, for you. Survive.”

The gates were creaking open, the lorry was entering, my heart was thumping. I had to decide, had to decide now. He pushed me away, towards the gate.

“Do it!” he hissed, the potential for his last good deed setting his eyes aflame. “You have half an hour and then they will be back. Do what you must. Do what is right!.”

I remembered my grandmother, the way she lit the candles on Erev Shabbat, the flames illuminating her eyes.

I nodded and ran. I didn’t look back, not even when the bullets ricocheted off the walls, not even when jackboots rang on the cobbles, not even when I heard him scream.

He had just been standing there, and still fought back.

There was still tikvah.