(Alexander Tamir, 1931-2019):
So here we are, in the Vilna Ghetto.
Graves bloom like flowers, heavy with rain.
That’s ‘poetry’ – in Ponar
where the seized go, are no graves,
just palls of black smoke, stinking the trees.
Because I’m eleven they think
I can’t see everyone waiting.
They don’t want that I see; but my eyes
record this corpse (stairwell),
that beggar (courtyard), the soprano
stripped naked to sing, before the shots.
No space is safe here. The Jerusalem
of the West has become something else.
You can disappear at practice,
going for bread, even with work permits.
If I live, I’ll refuse
to remember this past that breeds hate.
I’ll fight to forget, go on playing.
Though the song I wrote
may be sung now to weeping
it was a different beginning.
Alexander Tamir, age 11, wrote the resistance lullaby Shtiller, Shtiller (“Hush, Hush”) for a Jewish Council talent competition four months before the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated. Its origins as an international Holocaust anthem and his return to Vilna 60 years later are recounted in the film Ponar (2002). He and his wife Bracha Eden (1929-2006) became the world’s foremost classical piano duo.
Version first published as lead poem in Revolutionary Music (Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Winter 2020)