My holiday this year shall be
– unplanned – a lengthy train journey
from here in Westerbork to the
resettlement camps of the East.
I know, I know what your camps are;
I’ve heard the whispers in the night.
My neighbours? Packed in like cattle,
deprived of water, food and light.
I have a private car, paid for
by my collaborative words:
my praise written for the praiseless,
my defence for the defenceless,
my betrayal of my true thoughts.
I draw brocade curtains apart:
the flat lands roll away outside.
Like guilt borne from the guiltless.
Like guile borne from the guileless.
Like… all these things I cannot bear!
The Maharal won’t walk for us,
the showers will not make us clean.
This train will haul six million souls,
who should have had the chance to be.
You wrote me letters, like my friends;
words better than my own. I brought
them with me in my satchel-bag.
Each one could be a death sentence.
I take them individually
in hands that shake from more than age
more than rage
and read them one last time, holding
their words in both my heart and mind
so I can tear, methodically,
your written love and care to squares,
commit them to the wind beyond
the window, where I pray they will
sow hope wherever they may fall.
You know, you’re just a number now?
Tattooed in blue, inside your wrist.
But numbers are platonic,
unlike us they will persist.
At Auschwitz we must disembark,
the guards that take me are polite.
They take my empty satchel-bag,
and will not look me in the eye.
The crash of jackboots, martial drums,
are ringing in a brand new age
that now resounds like thunder as
we shuffle joylessly away.
The train departs, returning home –
with secret cargo I have stowed –
to bring more men. Atrocity
will build upon atrocity.
Your handkerchief, soft linen, soak’d
with loving tears goes back with it:
I’ve never done enough for that,
I don’t deserve to keep your heart.