By William Markiewicz
WladYslaw Szlengel, a Polish poet, died in the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. From his well known poem, “Counterattack”, I quote one stanza which I translate without trying to reproduce the rhyme:
Like purple bloody flowers
From Niska (street), from Mila, from Muranow
Blooms a flame from our guns’ barrels
It’s our spring! It’s counterattack!
It’s the wine of battle that goes to our heads.
Among his other poems from the Ghetto, I remember one called “Monument” which begins by mentioning the monuments to famous people. Then he writes about a young man who comes home after work to find his mother dead; during his workday the SS or Gestapo entered their flat and killed her. The poem describes thoughts of his mother that pass through his head:
“Pretty? Not pretty, even before the hair turned grey. Smart? Not stupid. But SHE WAS.” And, in the poem, his regard is fixed on the shelf above the stove. “There, Mother’s broken cooking pot – HER monument.”
It was in the Ghetto 42 - 43 when the notion of liberated women was practically nonexistent. How could he know that in our times a ‘broken cooking pot” would not be associated with the idea of being a woman.
In the concentration camp, a group of SS women in uniform passed near a crowd of Jewish prisoners. One of the SS women struck the nearest Jew in the face as she passed. When the women were at a distance, all the Jews burst into laughter, including the slapped one; the idea of a woman hitting a man was strongly comical to them, even in thoset tragic circumstances.
Years ago in Paris I met an older lady who, in her youth had been an assistant to Dr. Jung. She told me that she had once known a lady whose daughter was at the head of the Pasteur Institute, an almost unheard of position for a woman in those times.
The Mother, relating the story, cried: “I’d prefer her dead!” She was asked: “What would you like her to do?”
She answered: “What to do? Like us. Sit in the café and converse!”
It reminds me of Hindu women who, on the death of her husband, might traverse miles in great hardship to be burned on the pyre with him.Back to the index of the Vagabond