The HyperTexts

Holocaust Poems for Students and Teachers

This Holocaust poetry page has been created for students, other scholars, teachers and other educators. Its purpose is to present poems about the Holocaust and give background information about the poets and the context in which their poems were written. The Hebrew word for the Holocaust is Shoah ("Catastrophe"); thus poems written by Jewish Holocaust poets may also be called Shoah poetry. We have also published Holocaust writings by Germans who opposed the Nazis, a Romani Gypsy, an Estonian, and Pope John Paul II. You can find an extensive index of writings by victims and survivors of the Holocaust below, along with poems that oppose racism, intolerance, war, genocide and ethnic cleansing. The poems and essays that follow include the work of great Holocaust poets and other writers; they include Miklós Radnóti, Martin Niemöller, Bertolt Brecht, Paul Celan, Primo Levi, Anthony Hecht, Mary Elizabeth Frye, Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein and Elie Wiesel.—Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts



On Auschwitz now the reddening sunset settles;
they sleep alike—diminutive and tall,
the innocent, the "surgeons."
                                           Sleeping, all ...

The poem "Auschwitz Rose" is dedicated to all victims and survivors of the Holocaust. To read the full poem, please click the picture above. In Mary Rae's painting, the Rose is thornless, representing women and children who are defenseless unless we choose to protect them. As we read the Witnesses who follow, let's all say "Never again!" and pledge to protect all women and all children from all such atrocities.
 
Holocaust Children Skeletons Emaciated

The most famous Holocaust poem of all time, "First They Came for the Jews," was written by Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor and theologian who was born in Germany in 1892. At one time a supporter of Hitler’s policies, he eventually recanted and as a result was arrested and confined to the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1938 to 1945. After narrowly avoiding execution at the hands of the Nazis, he was liberated by the Allies in 1945 and continued his career in Germany as a clergyman, pacifist and anti-war activist.

First They Came For The Jews
by Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

"Do not stand at my grave and weep" is a Holocaust poem and elegy with a very interesting genesis, written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004). Although the origin of the poem was disputed for some time, Mary Frye's authorship was confirmed in 1998 after research by Abigail Van Buren, the newspaper columnist better known as "Dear Abby." The version below was published by The Times and The Sunday Times in Frye's obituary on November 5, 2004: Mary Frye wrote the poem in 1932. As far as we know, she had never written any poetry before, but the plight of a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with her and her husband at the time, inspired the poem. Margaret Schwarzkopf had been concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return because of increasing anti-Semitic unrest that was erupting into what became known as the Holocaust. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear”. Frye found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said that the words “just came to her” and expressed what she felt about life and death.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Carl Sandburg is one of America's best-known penners of free verse. Here "grass" may refer to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, in which the first American free verse poet suggests that if we want to find him after his death, we can look for him in the grass under our boot soles.

Grass
by Carl Sandburg

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work―
          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
          What place is this?
          Where are we now?

          I am the grass.
          Let me work.

Miklós Radnóti [1909-1944], a Hungarian Jew and a fierce anti-fascist, is perhaps the greatest of the Holocaust poets. He was born in Budapest in 1909. In 1930, at the age of 21, he published his first collection of poems, Pogány köszönto (Pagan Salute). His next book, Újmódi pásztorok éneke (Modern Shepherd's Song) was confiscated on grounds of "indecency," earning him a light jail sentence. In 1931 he spent two months in Paris, where he visited the "Exposition coloniale" and began translating African poems and folk tales into Hungarian. In 1934 he obtained his Ph.D. in Hungarian literature. The following year he married Fanni (Fifi) Gyarmati; they settled in Budapest. His book Járkálj csa, halálraítélt! (Walk On, Condemned!) won the prestigious Baumgarten Prize in 1937. Also in 1937 he wrote his Cartes Postales (Postcards from France), which were precurors to his darker images of war, Razglednicas (Picture Postcards). During World War II, Radnóti published translations of Virgil, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Eluard, Apollinare and Blaise Cendras in Orpheus nyomában. From 1940 on, he was forced to serve on forced labor battalions, at times arming and disarming explosives on the Ukrainian front. In 1944 he was deported to a compulsory labor camp near Bor, Yugoslavia. As the Nazis retreated from the approaching Russian army, the Bor concentration camp was evacuated and its internees were led on a forced march through Yugoslavia and Hungary. During what became his death march, Radnóti recorded poetic images of what he saw and experienced. After writing his fourth and final "Postcard," Radnóti was badly beaten by a soldier annoyed by his scribblings. Soon thereafter, the weakened poet was shot to death, on November 9, 1944, along with 21 other prisoners who unable to walk. Their mass grave was exhumed after the war and Radnóti's poems were found on his body by his wife, inscribed in pencil in a small Serbian exercise book. Radnóti's posthumous collection, Tajtékos ég (Clouded Sky, or Foaming Sky) contains odes to his wife, letters, poetic fragments and his final Postcards. Unlike his murderers, Miklós Radnóti never lost his humanity, and his empathy continues to live on and shine through his work.

Postcard 1
by Miklós Radnóti
written August 30, 1944

translated by Michael R. Burch

Out of Bulgaria, the great wild roar of the artillery thunders,
resounds on the mountain ridges, rebounds, then ebbs into silence
while here men, beasts, wagons and imagination all steadily increase;
the road whinnies and bucks, neighing; the maned sky gallops;
and you are eternally with me, love, constant amid all the chaos,
glowing within my conscience — incandescent, intense.
Somewhere within me, dear, you abide forever —
still, motionless, mute, like an angel stunned to silence by death
or a beetle hiding in the heart of a rotting tree.

Postcard 2
by Miklós Radnóti
written October 6, 1944 near Crvenka, Serbia
translated by Michael R. Burch

A few miles away they're incinerating
the haystacks and the houses,
while squatting here on the fringe of this pleasant meadow,
the shell-shocked peasants quietly smoke their pipes.
Now, here, stepping into this still pond, the little shepherd girl
sets the silver water a-ripple
while, leaning over to drink, her flocculent sheep
seem to swim like drifting clouds.

Postcard 3
by Miklós Radnóti
written October 24, 1944 near Mohács, Hungary
translated by Michael R. Burch

The oxen dribble bloody spittle;
the men pass blood in their piss.
Our stinking regiment halts, a horde of perspiring savages,
adding our aroma to death's repulsive stench.

Postcard 4
by Miklós Radnóti
his final poem, written October 31, 1944 near Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary
translated by Michael R. Burch

I toppled beside him — his body already taut,
tight as a string just before it snaps,
shot in the back of the head.
"This is how you’ll end too; just lie quietly here,"
I whispered to myself, patience blossoming from dread.
"Der springt noch auf," the voice above me jeered;
I could only dimly hear
through the congealing blood slowly sealing my ear.

Translator's notes: "Der springt noch auf" means something like "That one is still twitching."

For many years now I have been editing, publishing and translating Holocaust poetry. In my opinion Miklós Radnóti is the greatest of the Holocaust poets. But this truly great poet became a victim of ethic cleansing, genocide and war. Unfortunately, ethnic cleansing, genocide and war still continue to this day. If you are a student, teacher, educator, peace activist or just someone who cares and wants to help, please consider doing everything you can to help end such atrocities forever. Doing all you can will help make the world a safer, happier place for people of all races and creeds.

It seems the fourth and final Postcard poem above was the last poem written by Miklós Radnóti. Here are some additional biographic notes, provided by two of his translators, Peter Czipott and John Ridland: "In a small cross-ruled notebook, procured during his labor in Bor, Serbia, he continued to write poems. As the Allies approached the mine where he was interned, he and his brigade were led on a forced march toward northwest Hungary. Laborers who straggled—from illness, injury or exhaustion—were shot by the roadside and buried in mass graves. Number 4 of the "Razglednicak" poems was written on October 31, the day that Radnóti's friend, the violinist Miklós Lovsi, suffered that fate. It is the last poem Radnóti wrote. On November 9, 1944, near the village of Abda, he too was shot on the roadside by guards who were anxious to reach their camp by nightfall. Buried in a mass grave, his body was exhumed over a year later, and the coroner's report mentions finding the "Bor Notebook" in the back pocket of his trousers. Radnóti had made fair copies of all but five poems while in Bor, and those had been smuggled out by a survivor. When his widow Fanni received the notebook, most of the poems had been rendered illegible, saturated by the liquids of decaying flesh. However, the only poems not smuggled out—the four Razglednicas and one other—happened to be the only ones still decipherable in their entirety in the notebook. In late summer 1937, Radnóti had made his second visit to France, accompanied by Fanni. Although this was a year before Kristallnacht, Hitler's move into Czechoslovakia, and the first discriminatory "Jewish Law" in Hungary, there was plenty of "terrible news" in the papers, as mentioned in "Place de Notre Dame": the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of China, and of course the increasing threats from Hitler's Germany. Nevertheless, most of these poems, at least on the surface, are innocent snapshots that justify their French title, referring to picture postcards such as tourists mail home. Radnóti was likely alluding ironically to this earlier set with his final four poems, which have the Serbian word for postcard—in a Hungarian plural form—as their title. Reading the two sets together darkens the tones of the five earlier poems, and makes the later four all the more poignant."

As Camille Martin wrote, "These last poems, written under the pressure of the most degrading and desperate circumstances imaginable, unfurl visions of delicate pastoral beauty next to images of extreme degradation and wild, filthy despair. They give voice to the last vestiges of hope, as Radnóti fantasizes being home once more with his beloved Fanny, as well as to the grim premonition of his own fate. This impossibly stark contrast blossoms into paradox: Radnóti’s poetry embraces humanity and inhumanity with an urgent desire to bear witness to both. Yet even at the moment when he is most certain of his imminent death, he never abandons the condensed and intricate language of his poetry. And pushed to the limits of human endurance and sanity, he never loses his capacity for empathy."

Pity Us
by Samuel Menashe

Pity us
Beside the sea
On the sands
So briefly

O Lady
by Samuel Menashe

O Lady lonely as a stone
Even here moss has grown

Survival
by Samuel Menashe

I stand on this stump
To knock on wood
For the good I once
Misunderstood

Cut down, yes
But rooted still
What stumps compress
No axe can kill

Daily Bread
by Samuel Menashe

I knead the dough
Whose oven you stoke
We consume each loaf
Wrapped in smoke

The Family Silver
by Samuel Menashe

That spoon fell out
Of my mother's mouth
Before I was born,
But I was endowed
With a tuning fork

Samuel Menashe was born Samuel Menashe Weisberg, the child of persecuted Ukrainian Jews who emigrated to New York, living in Brooklyn and Queens. His first language was Yiddish. Menashe served in the military during World War II, where he experienced and survived brutal combat, including the Battle of the Bulge, which affected his worldview forever: "For the first few years after the war, each day was the last day. And then it changed. Each day was the only day." I'm not sure if all the poems above are specifically about the Holocaust, per se, but I think they serve well whatever their roots.

Something
by Michael R. Burch

for the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba

Something inescapable is lost—
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone—
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past—
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
and finality has swept into a corner where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

Unnecessary cruelty and brutality are horrible enough, but when innocent children are the victims, words begin to fail us. The poem "Something" tries to capture something of the heartbreaking loss of young lives cut short, even as the poet admits his inability to do anything more than preserve a brief flicker of remembrance, an increasingly ethereal memory. What happened to millions of children during the Holocaust was a horror beyond imagining. Children who had been "born wrong" according to the Nazis—whether Jewish, Polish, Gypsy, Slavic, Russian or otherwise "inferior"—were either killed outright or stripped of their human rights and consigned to abysmal conditions in concentration camps and walled ghettoes. But as the poem below points out, even to this day completely innocent children continue to be stripped of their human rights and consigned to abysmal, terrifying conditions in refugee camps and walled ghettoes, while the world watches and does little or nothing to help them.

If you are a Christian, or have an interest in such things, you may want to read Did a Misinterpretation of the Bible lead to the Trail of Tears, American Slavery and the Holocaust?

Epitaph for a Child of the Nakba
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

The Hebrew word for the Holocaust is Shoah; it means "Catastrophe." The Arabic word Nakba also means "Catastrophe." Today millions of completely innocent Palestinian children and their mothers and grandparents languish within the walled ghetto of Gaza, the walled bantustans of Occupied Palestine (the West Bank) and refugee camps across the Middle East. Why are people who are obviously not "terrorists" being collectively punished for the "crime" of having been "born wrong," just as Jews  were once collectively punished by the Nazis? If it concerns you that such things continue to happen today, and in this case are being funded and supported by the government of the United States, please visit our Nakba Index and read what great humanitarians and Nobel Peace Prize winners like Albert Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have said on the subject. The most admired Jewish intellectual of all time, the man most responsible for the advent of modern nonviolent resistance, the two men best known for ending South African apartheid, and the president who helped negotiate peace between Israel and Palestinians have all spoken firmly and eloquently against the racism and injustices that resulted in this new catastrophe, the Nakba.

Other poets, songwriters and bands who opposed racism, fascism and horrors like the Holocaust include Joan Baez, William Blake, Robert Burns, Jimmy Cliff, Sam Cooke ("A Change is Gonna Come"), Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Woody Guthrie (who inscribed "This machine kills fascists" on his guitar), George Harrison, Joe Hill, Billie Holliday ("Strange Fruit"), Langston Hughes, Janis Ian, Michael Jackson ("Man in the Mirror"), Billy Joel ("Saigon"), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Paul McCartney, Robinson Jeffers, John Lennon (who wrote "Imagine" and "Revolution"), Melanie Safka, Phil Ochs, Midnight Oil ("Beds Are Burning"), Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Sly & the Family Stone, Bruce Springsteen, Edwin Starr ("War"), Cat Stevens ("Peace Train"), Sting ("Russians"), U2, Tom Waits, Walt Whitman, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young ("Let's Impeach the President")

Holocaust Poetry, Testimonies and Essays by Holocaust Victims and Survivors, and Great Humanitarians

Miklos Radnoti (translations of a Hungarian Jewish poet; perhaps the greatest of the Holocaust poets)
Terezín Children's Holocaust Poems (poems by child poets of a Nazi concentration camp)
Martin Niemöller (he wrote the most famous of all Holocaust poems: "First they came for the Jews ...")
Einstein on Palestine (Albert Einstein was both a victim and survivor of the Holocaust)
Mahmoud Darwish (the preeminent Palestinian Holocaust poet of his day)
Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) (poetry by Pope John Paul II, a Holocaust victim and survivor)
Paul Celan (translations of a German Jewish poet, including his famous poem "Todesfuge" or "Death Fugue")
The Ghetto Poets (translations of Polish Jewish ghetto poets by Yala Korwin)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (revisit the ringing words of the man whose impossible dream of equality became a reality)
Mohandas Gandhi (please read and consider what the great advocate of non-violent resistance had to say about the Nakba)

As you explore these pages, please keep in mind that if Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and other people deemed "inferior" by the Nazis had not been denied access to fair laws and courts, the Holocaust could never have happened. The Holocaust was, essentially, a failure of justice that led to the disintegration of the moral foundations of society. In order to prevent other Holocausts, we must ensure that every child is protected by fair laws and courts. There can be no exceptions, because every exception begins life as a defenseless baby. And so please pay particular attention to our Nakba pages, because while the Nazi Holocaust has thankfully ended, multitudes of innocent children are now suffering and dying in this new Holocaust. Now is the time to ensure that all children are protected by equal rights, fair laws and fair courts. Then we can write celebratory poetry, rather than mournful laments and dirges. 

Reuven Moskovitz (a Jewish Holocaust survivor who received the Mount Zion Award and the Aachen Peace Prize)
Bertolt Brecht (a German poet who opposed the Nazis)
Avraham Burg: the Prophet-Poet of Judaism (Holocaust writings by a Jewish politician and peace activist)
Dahlia Ravikovitch (Holocaust poetry by one of Israel's foremost poets)
What I learned from Elie Wiesel and other Jewish Holocaust Survivors (an essay by Michael R. Burch)
Dan Almagor (a Holocaust poem by an Israeli poet)
Bronislawa Wajs "Papusza" (one translation of a Romani Gypsy poet, by Yala Korwin)
Iqbal Tamimi (a Palestinian poet who lives in exile, dreaming of a free, independent, democratic Palestine)

If you are a student, teacher, educator, peace activist or just someone who cares and wants to help, please read two very important articles: What Was the Holocaust and Why Did It Happen? and How Can We End Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide Forever? If you want to do something to end one of the worst ongoing holocausts, and help prevent such things from ever happening again, please read and consider supporting the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative.

Holocaust Mass Graves

Associated Pages: Hiroshima, 9-11, the NAKBA, Darfur, the Trail of Tears, Bosnia, etc.


Ogaden Poetry
Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Poetry
Hiroshima Poetry, Prose and Art
9-11 Poetry
Child of 9-11, a poem for Christina-Taylor Green
"The Whirlwinds of Revolt will continue to Shake the Foundations of our Nation ..."
The Children of Gaza Speak
Frail Envelope of Flesh, a poem for the children of Gaza
Poems for Gaza
At Death's Door: a Story of Gaza
The Nakba ("Catastrophe"): The Holocaust of the Palestinians
Palestinian Poetry, Art and Photography
Night Labor, a poem for Rachel Corrie, a young peace activist who died in Rafah
Vanessa Redgrave: A Passion for Justice
In the Shadow of Rachel's Tomb
Who the hell was Furkan Dogan, and why should we care?
"Does Jesus Love Me?"
For Darfur: Poetry about the Holocaust and Genocide in Darfur
Bloodshed in the Sahara: the Plight of the Sahrawi People
Poems for Haiti
The Holocaust of the Homeless
The Trail of Tears
Nadia Anjuman: the personal holocaust of an Afghani poet
David Burnham's "Bosnian Morning"
Le Trio Joubran
In Peace's Arms, Not War's: the Poets speak for Peace, not War

Holocaust Child Skeleton

Other Holocaust Poets, Writers and Artists


Dr. Hanan Ashrawi (poems by a tireless campaigner for Palestinian human rights)
Peggy Landsman (Holocaust poetry by an American poet who was touched by pictures of the "little boy with his hands up")
Yala Korwin (Holocaust poetry and art by a Jewish Holocaust survivor)
Salomon N. Meisels (translations of her father's poems by Yala Korwin)
Anita Dorn (poems by an Estonian poet who fled the advancing Red Armies as a young girl)
Takashi Tanemori (poems, prose and art by a Hiroshima survivor)
Chaya Feldman (she wrote one of the most poignant poems of the Holocaust: "93 Daughters of Israel")
Tawfik Zayyad (a Palestinian poet)
Fadwa Tuqan (she has been called the Grand Dame of Palestinian poets)
Nahida Izzat (a Jerusalem-born Palestinian refugee who has lived in exile for over forty years)
A Page from the Deportation Diary (a poem about Janusz Korczak by Wladyslaw Szlengel)
Wladyslaw Szlengel (translations of a Jewish poet who died in the Warsaw ghetto)
Janusz Korczak (translations of a hero of the Holocaust by Esther Cameron)
Primo Levi (translations of an Italian Jewish Holocaust survivor)
Anthony Hecht (a poet of German-Jewish descent who helped liberate a concentration camp)
Nakba (the pseudonym of a Palestinian American poet who speaks very bluntly about his people's plight)
Ber Horvitz (an unknown Jewish Holocaust poet who can only be known today by the poems he left us)
Miryam (Miriam) Ulinover (a Jewish writer who wrote prose in Polish, German and Russian and poetry in Yiddish)
Itzhak (Yitzkhak) Viner (translations of a Polish Jewish poet who was imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto)
Jerzy Ficowski (translations of a Polish Christian poet by Yala Korwin)
Vilem Pollak (one translation of a Czech poet by Martin Rocek and Colin Ward)
Allama Iqbāl (translations of a poet who is considered by many to be the founder of the modern state of Pakistan)
Moishe (Moshe) Kaufman (a Jewish Holocaust survivor who fled to Buenos Aires)
Peretz Opochinski (he began writing poetry at age twelve, only to die in the Warsaw Ghetto along with his wife and child)
Gideon Levy (he has been called the "most hated man in Israel," for speaking out against an ongoing holocaust, the Nakba)
Hershele Danielovitch (two Holocaust poems by a Jewish poet who died in the Warsaw Ghetto)
Kalman Lis (a poem by a Polish Jew who died during the Holocaust)
Kim Nguyen (two letters about the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli settlers and the IDF)
Saul Tchernichovsky (two poems by a Russian Jew who immigrated to Palestine)

German Nazi Soldier Shooting Jews

Contemporary Poets and other Writers on the Holocaust


Yakov Azriel (a Holocaust poem by an Israeli poet)
Peter Austin (Holocaust poetry by an American poet)
Michael R. Burch (Holocaust poetry by an American poet)
Charles Adés Fishman (Holocaust poetry by an American poet)
Dr. John Z. Guzlowski (Holocaust poetry by an American poet)
Roger Hecht (a Holocaust poem by an American poet)
Christina Pacosz (Holocaust poems by an American poet)
Elie Wiesel (Holocaust essays by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate)
Joseph McDonough (poetry by a stockbroker who worked in the World Trade Center prior to 9-11)
Edward Nudelman (a Holocaust poem by an American poet)
Sean M. Teaford (Holocaust poems by an American poet)

Holocaust Children

Students on the Holocaust


Brian Coleman (a tribute page to an American student who reached out to Holocaust survivors)
Fardin Mohammadi (a Muslim student writes about his feelings on the anniversary of 9-11)
Holocaust Poetry and Art (Holocaust poetry and art by students Victoria Lassen and Meidema Sanchez)

Other Holocaust Writings

The Path to Peace in the Middle East
Wrestling Angels and Chimeras
Roll Call of Shame
The Aftermath of the Flotilla
Independence Day Madness
Osama bin Laden and the Twin Terrors
The Curious Blindness of Abba Eban
Israeli Apartheid
How Palestine Became Divided
Logic 101
Parables of Zion
Best Poems about the Holocaust

Main Index

The HyperTexts