Celebrating the Women Poets Who Died During the Holocaust By Amber Poole-Kieniewicz

Celebrating the Women Poets Who Died During the Holocaust By Amber Poole-Kieniewicz

06.12.2019 vicky 22

Do not feel safe.  The poet remembers.  You can kill one, but another is born.  The words are written down, the deed, the date.

You Who Wronged by Czesław Miłosz

In
2015, when my husband and I left Scotland for Poland, we moved into the
ancestral home of his Aunt Zofia.  We
wanted to come out of retirement and do something worthwhile with the end of
our years.  But what, and why Poland?

Why
Poland was no doubt influenced by the urgency in the deathbed plea of my mother
in law, Rose Popiel Kieniewicz: “Remember Wojcza.  Promise me you won’t forget Wojcza”, she said
as she clutched the picture of her childhood home tight to her chest. 

The
Popiel family was a part of the great Polish nobility whose roots can be traced
to the 8th Century.   By the time the
Nazis marched on Poland in September, 1939, they were among the landed gentry;
in possession of palaces, manor houses, town homes, and castles with their
adjoining woodlands.  Among them was Wojcza,
which was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis during the war. 

Of
the family members who survived the war, everyone was forced off their land.
The properties were then confiscated by the Communists but were eventually
abandoned because of steep operational costs. 
Wojcza would have required tremendous effort and a great deal of money
to restore it, so when our cousin offered us a place at Sichów*, Aunt Zofia’s old
house, we were delighted to accept the offer and get right to work on a
project.

We
wanted a project that would highlight the humanities.  When the Gestapo came to Sichów for Aunt Zofia
and her husband, Krzysztof, in his memoirs he indicated that on the night
before their arrest they were on the back terrace reading Plato to each other.  While it was absurd to consider
reconstructing this cultured, 18th/19th Century way of life, it was within our
grasp to bring back the humanities, the poetry, the aesthetics; we could serve
as guardians to what was once of value to our family. 

The women poets who
perished during the Holocaust are of particular interest to us.  When all the lights went out in Europe, when
it was in complete darkness the poets carried the light in verse. The irony and
ambiguities of being put to death because of race and religion did not go
unnoticed by them.  Nor did the universal
themes inherent in their poems; the longing for home, for family, for love, for
the sweetness of what once was.  How were
they able to write in such a weakened physical and emotional condition? They
were exhausted, starving and with each passing minute there was the threat of
torture.  How were they able to focus the
mind on the extraordinary task of creating a work of art within this atmosphere
of horror?  The astonishment of their resolve, by
their strength to write in spite of their indisputable fate is no less than
extraordinary.

Knowing
that they had been alive and were writing at the time my own mother-in-law was herself
resisting the Nazis, animated them in my mind. 
They became part of our ancestral family, part of our story, and the
incentive to start an educational foundation. 
Two years ago, our doors opened to the intention that we could preserve
the aesthetics of a bygone generation. 

Next
month, we have a group of dancers coming from different parts of the world to
tell the story of loss, grief and displacement through their performances.  We will be celebrating the women poets.  We will be reading their poetry and remembering
their courage.

To
put a voice with a name and to put a face on a poem expands our consciousness
to consider compassion before false accusation and judgment.  To bring voice to the pictures along the
walls of the concentration camps brings story to life.

Their
lifestyle, the way they moved in the world, like millions of others was aborted
on the day of their arrest.  They were
displaced.  They were murdered.  They would no longer be able to come
home.  Some survivors say the sweetness
of life disappeared and was never to return. 

Judith
Rubenstein, Auschwitz Survivor:

“I
feel very strongly that we should warn and educate our youth; they should be
aware…what could happen to people who are innocent and so little informed as we
were, because anti-Semitism is always somewhere and we have to be on guard, and
this is the only thing…education.”

Not
only can the poems of these women inform us, but their actions during an unimaginable
era of hatred and abhorrent acts of crimes against individual human beings, the
risk they took for each other is the endowment they left us. 

Grażyna
Chrostowska and Henryka Łazowertówna are two of the poets we will be featuring
next month.  Grażyna was shot dead at
Ravensbruck on April 18, 1942, just before her 21st birthday while Henryka was
gassed at Treblinka. 

The
women at Ravensbruck supported Chrostowska by buying shampoo at the
canteen.  They weren’t allowed to bathe
so the shampoo was useless to them but the paper it was wrapped in was blank on
one side, which was where she pencilled her poetry.  The women sacrificed their own needs so that
Grażyna could write.

Henryka
Łazowertówna risked her life along with
Emanuel Ringelblum to stuff milk cans full of poetry, newspaper clippings,
diary entries, and mementos, and then bury them in plain sight of the Nazis so
that when the war was over someone might find their story.  Thankfully, they did.

Two
hours before Grażyna Chrostowska was executed for generating written material
in resistance to the German occupation, she wrote Anxiety:

This day is just like Chopin’s “Anxiety”
The birds are low above the ground. Restless, 
Startled from their nests. 
Silence in nature. Heat, like before the storm. 
Low, dark clouds flow from the west. 

Spring gales roll through the sky
Crouching fear in my heart. Longing, longing … 
I want to walk on soggy, distant roads, 
Listen to the roar of winds, catch the breath of spring, 
Feel the deepest, find the silence of love, 
I go, I do not find, I change and I come back. 
The cottagers were somewhere far away, 
Clouds that went east, 
And on the east side, 
There are lonely trees, dark, inclined, 
in the wind they stand and silence, 
Shaken with anxiety.

We
will be taking a closer look at the Holocaust through the voices of these women
poets who wrote about what is universal in all of us; fear, loneliness,
abandonment, loss, and love. 
Longing. 

Łazowertówna
wrote about the children in the Warsaw Ghetto when she penned her famous poem,
The Little Smuggler.

Through walls, through holes, through sentry points,
Through wires, through rubble, through fences:
Hungry, daring, stubborn
I flee, dart like a cat.

At noon, at night, in dawning hours,
In blizzards, in the heat,
A hundred times I risk my life,
I risk my childish neck.

Under my arm a burlap sack,
On my back a tattered rag;
Running on my swift young legs
With fear ever in my heart.

Yet everything must be suffered;
And all must be endured,
So that tomorrow you can all
Eat your fill of bread.

Through walls, though holes, through brickwork,
At night, at dawn, at day,
Hungry, daring, cunning,
Quiet as a shadow I move.

And if the hand of sudden fate
Seizes me at some point in this game,
It’s only the common snare of life.
Mama, don’t wait for me.
I won’t return to you,
Your far-off voice won’t reach.
The dust of the street will bury
The lost youngster’s fate.

And only one grim thought,
A grimace on your lips:
Who, my dear Mama, who
Will bring you bread tomorrow?

Sichow
Educational Foundation is a thriving centre dedicated to the community,
especially to the children in the village who wish to pursue their talents in
art. Learn more about Sichow House and Library here www.sichow.eu

*Sichów
is under refurbishment by Stefan Dunin-Wąsowicz, the grandson of Krzysztof and
Zofia Radziwiłł


Amber Poole-Kieniewicz is a long time student of Jungian psychology and former Program Manger of the Jung Centre Houston, Texas.  She is a graduate of the Edward Albee Advanced Playwriting Master’s Class, 1998-2001, University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance. Her interest in protecting aesthetics, especially poetry against the strong tide of materialism, rising anti-Semitism, racism and nationalism is central to her work. Since moving to Poland three years ago, her work in progress is remembering the women artists who lost their lives during the Holocaust; giving voice to them through story and song. 

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Celebrating the Women Poets Who Died During the Holocaust By Amber Poole-Kieniewicz