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Itzhak (Yitzkhak) Viner: English Translations of Yiddish Holocaust Poetry

compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry

Itzhak (Yitzkhak) Viner was a Jewish poet who was imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto during World War II. He wrote poems about the Holocaust in Yiddish. In his poem “My Childhood” he recalls the severe hunger he experienced as a young boy: hunger so severe he and his friends pretended to bake and eat loaves made of mud. Later as a prisoner of the Nazis, he looked back to those days, longing for the freedom to go outside and bake loaves of mud again.



Let it be Quiet in my Room!
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let it be quiet in my room!
Let me hear the birds outside singing,
And let their innocent trilling
Lull away my heart's interior gloom…

Listen, outside, drayman's horse and cart,
If you scare the birds away,
You will wake me from my dream-play
And wring the last drop of joy from my heart…

Don’t cough mother! Father, no words!
It’d be a shame to spoil the calm
And silence the sweet-sounding balm
of the well-fed little birds…

Hush, little sisters and brothers! Be strong!
Don’t weep and cry for drink and food;
Try to remember in silence the good.
Please do not disturb my weaving of songs…



My Childhood
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

In the years of my childhood, in Balut's yards,
Living with my parents in an impoverished day,
I remember my hunger; with my friends I would play
And bake loaves of bread out of muddy clay…

By baking mud-breads, we dreamed away hunger:
the closest and worst of the visitors kids know;
so passed the summer's heat through the gutters,
so winters passed with their freezing snow.

Outside today all is gray, sunk in snow,
Though the roofs and the gate are silvered and white.
I lie on a bed warmed now only by rags
and look through grim windows brightened by ice.

Father left early to try to find work;
In an unlit room I and my mother stay.
It’s cold, we’re hungry, we have nothing to eat:
How I lust to bake one tiny bread-loaf of clay…

Balut (Baluty) was a poor Jewish suburb of Lodz, Poland which became a segregated ghetto under the Nazis.



It Is Good to Have Two Eyes
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I.

It is good to have two eyes.
Anything I want, they can see:
Boats, trains, horses and cars,
everything around me.

But sometimes I just want to see
Someone's laughter, sweet…
Instead I see his corpse outstretched,
Lying in the street…

When I want to see his laughter
his eyes are closed forever…

II.

It is good to have two ears.
Anything I want, they can hear:
Songs, plays, concerts, kind words,
Street cars, bells, anything near.

I want to hear kids' voices sing,
but my ears only hear the shrill cries
and fear
of two children watching a man as he dies…

When I long for a youthful song
I hear children weeping hard and long…

III.

It is good to have two hands.
Every year I can till the land.
Banging iron night and day
Fashions wheels to plow the clay…

But now wheels are silent and still
And people’s hands are obsolete;
The houses grow cold and dark
As hands dig a grave in defeat…

Still it is good to have two hands:
I write poems in which the truth still stands.

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