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Erich Fried: English Translations

Erich Fried (1921-1988) was born in Austria. His father died under interrogation by the Gestapo. He fled to London after Germany invaded Austria in 1938. During World War II he became one of the most eminent German poets. After the war, he became a commentator for the BBC. He remained a committed socialist and acerbic critic of Stalinism. In 1978 his award-winning book 100 Poems without a Country was published in seven languages. It was followed by Love Poems in 1979. In 1986 he published 29 prose pieces and his memoirs, Sometimes Even Laughter. Fried became an outspoken voice in the West German anti-Vietnam war movement. His experiences with racism and fascism led him to oppose Zionism and support Palestinians, who, like himself, had been driven from their native land into exile. Fried received the Prix International des Editeurs, the Bremer Literature Prize, the Austrian National Prize and the Georg-Büchner Prize. He was also an important translator of Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, T.S Eliot, Graham Greene and Sylvia Plath.

Hear, O Israel!
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

When we were the oppressed,
I was one with you,
but how can we remain one
now that you have become the oppressor?

Your desire
was to become powerful, like the nations
who murdered you;
now you have, indeed, become like them.

You have outlived those
who abused you;
so why does their cruelty
possess you now?

You also commanded your victims:
"Remove your shoes!"
Like the scapegoat,
you drove them into the wilderness,
into the great mosque of death
with its burning sands.
But they would not confess the sin
you longed to impute to them:
the imprint of their naked feet
in the desert sand
will outlast the silhouettes
of your bombs and tanks.

So hear, O Israel …
hear the whimpers of your victims
echoing your ancient sufferings …

"Hear, O Israel!" was written in 1967, after the Six Day War.

What It Is
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is nonsense
says reason.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is a dangerous
says discretion.
It is terrifying
says fear.
It is hopeless
says insight.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is ludicrous
says pride.
It is reckless
says caution.
It is impractical
says experience.
It is what it is 
says Love.

An Attempt
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I have attempted
while working
to think only of my work
and not of you,
but I am encouraged
to have been so unsuccessful.

by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The boys
throw stones
at the frogs
in jest.

The frogs
in earnest.

by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Israel's bulldozers
have confirmed their kinship
to bulldozers in Beirut
where the bodies of massacred Palestinians
lie buried under the rubble of their former homes.

And it has been reported
that in the heart of Israel
the Memorial Cemetery
for the massacred dead of Deir Yassin
has been destroyed by bulldozers ...
"Not intentional," it's said,
"A slight oversight during construction work."

Also the murder
of the people of Sabra and Shatila
shall become known only as an oversight
in the process of building a great Zionist power.

The villagers of Deir Yassin were massacred in 1948 by Israeli Jews operating under the command of future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The New York Times reported 254 villagers murdered, most of them women, children and elderly men. Later, the village cemetery was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers as Deir Yassin, like hundreds of other Palestinian villages, was destroyed.

Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon were two Palestinian refugee camps destroyed during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It has been estimated that as many as 3,500 people were murdered. In 1982, an International Commission concluded that Israelis were, directly or indirectly, responsible. The Israeli government established the Kahan Commission to investigate the massacre, and found another future Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, personally responsible for having permitted militias to enter the camps despite a risk of violence against the refugees.

Since 1967 the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions has reported more than 24,000 home demolitions ... hence the "kinship" of the bulldozers of Israel to those used to destroy Palestinian homes in Lebanon.

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