rosewiczWe used to have a slim Penguin paperback, Five Polish Poets, in which I first read Tadeusz Różewicz. He was 18 at the start of World War II, and with his older brother, joined the Polish resistance. His brother was captured, tortured and killed by the Gestapo, but Tadeusz survived. After the war, he published his first of many volumes of poems called Anxiety, “piercingly direct” poems with a breath-taking realism. The NY Times carried his obituary today.  Here’s a poem from the late Mr. Różewicz:


When all the women in the transport
had their heads shaved
four workmen with brooms made of birch twigs
swept up
and gathered up the hair

Behind clean glass
the stiff hair lies
of those suffocated in gas chambers
there are pins and side combs
in this hair

The hair is not shot through with light
is not parted by the breeze
is not touched by any hand
or rain or lips

In huge chests
clouds of dry hair
of those suffocated
and a faded plait
a pigtail with a ribbon
pulled at school
by naughty boys.

Tadeusz Różewicz
Translated by Adam Czerniawski

If you ever visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., hair from the camps is one of the most moving exhibits.


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