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Ber Horvitz: Holocaust Poet

At the time I created this page, I was not able to find anything definitive about Ber Horvitz (also spelled Horowitz). I assumed that he perished during the Holocaust and that we could only know him through the poems he left us, below. It was truly an honor for me to translate his poems and help make his voice heard, because it's a good and strong voice ... one that deserves to be heard. Several years after publishing the page, I found the following Ber Horvitz bio on the aptly-named website Poetry in Hell:

Ber Horowitz (July 17, 1895 - October 2, 1942): Born to village people in the woods of Maidan in West Carpathians, Horowitz showed artistic talent early on. He went to gymnazie in Stanislavov, then served in the Austrian army during WWI, where he was a medic to Italian prisoners of war. He studied medicine in Vienna and was published in many Yiddish newspapers. Fluent in several languages, he translated Polish and Ukrainian into Yiddish. He also wrote poetry in Yiddish. There are two different versions of his murder in 1942: He was either killed by Nazis with nine thousand other Jews in Stanislavov; or he was killed by peasants in his home village and birthplace of Maidan.

compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch, a translator, editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry

Der Himmel
"The Heavens"
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

These skies
are leaden, heavy, gray ...
I long for a pair
of deep blue eyes.

The birds have fled
far overseas;
Tomorrow I’ll migrate too,
I said ...

These gloomy autumn days
it rains and rains.
Woe to the bird
Who remains ...

This is powerful little poem, laden with irony. Here is my personal interpretation and analysis of the poem: In the first stanza the poet longs for a pair of "deep blue eyes" because the Nazis prized Aryan features and despised Jews, who typically have darker hair, skin and eyes. Therefore, blue eyes are identified with a blue sky, and both are contrasted with darker, less "colorful" eyes and skies. In the second stanza, the birds able to migrate have all fled. The poet "promises" to migrate too, but realizes this is unlikely if not impossible. In the third stanza, the poet describes a personal plight similar to that of a bird who failed to migrate before bad weather made migration impossible. The poem's title is also ironic, as "Der Himmel" can mean both "the sky" and "the heavens." Where was God during the Holocaust, the poet seems to be asking, ironically. Horvitz may also have been commenting on the fact that many German Christians believed Jews would be denied entrance to heaven.

by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Early this morning I bandaged
the lilac tree outside my house;
I took thin branches that had broken away
and patched their wounds with clay.

My mother stood there watering
her window-level flower bed;
The morning sun, quite motherly,
kissed us both on our heads!

What a joy, my child, to heal!
Finished doctoring, or not?
The eggs are nicely poached
And the milk's a-boil in the pot.

by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness. Why?
On the hard uncomfortable floor the exhausted people lie.

Flung everywhere, scattered over the broken theater floor,
the exhausted people sleep. Night. Late. Too tired to snore.

At midnight a little boy cries wildly into the gloom:
"Mommy, I’m afraid! Let’s go home!”

His mother, reawakened into this frightful place,
presses her frightened child even closer to her breast …

"If you cry, I’ll leave you here, all alone!
A little boy must sleep ... this, now, is our new home.”

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness all around,
exhausted people sleeping on the hard ground.

"My Lament"
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Nothingness enveloped me
as tender green toadstools
lie blanketed by snow
with its thick, heavy prayer shawl …
After that, nothing could hurt me …

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