that is the hardest thing – to give of yourself
while knowing you are superfluous,
to give yourself completely and to realise
you will vanish like smoke into nothing.
December 23, 1941
With a red pencil she added:
I did not have time to finish writing…
Your last thoughts, traverse my thoughts, until sleep comes…
I dream it is 1940. You are sixteen years old, live somewhere in a city in Eastern Romania. You go to school. You’re in love with a young man. The sun is shining. You’re going to go dancing on Friday night. You write a poem about a bench that is waiting in a park. Your write a poem about air and scent and sheen.
You read in the newspaper about things changing and an empire lasting a thousand years. One day through your classroom window, you see how Jewish students are beaten by the Nazis. You hear about how one of them is forced to jump from a third story window of the school building. You write a poem about a raven.
I dream you are not allowed to go to school anymore. Your civil rights are taken away. You must wear a yellow Star of David on the lapels of your coat. Carry out forced labor. From now on you live with 60,000 other people in a ghetto, no house, just on the street. You write a poem about the night.
You run away and break your leg. You’re recognized in the city as a Jew and deported to work in the bitter cold for a German road builder. You’re sixteen years old and ill: you don’t keep working you will be shot dead by the SS. You put children to bed who have no father and mother anymore. And write for them a lullaby.
I dream there is nothing to eat except watery soup. People are dying all around you. Bodies are dumped into puddles alongside the road or thrown over the railing of a bridge. Fodder for birds and dogs. A little farther on you hear a German soldier singing a song by Franz Schubert. You write a song about a tender pain embracing all the trees.
You’re herded onto a train at six in the morning. For three nights and two days you ride in a cattle car through a strange country. No one knows where to, no one knows for how long. You and 120 other people have been crammed into one railroad car. You hear women singing and you think it is impossible for people to sing under these circumstances. A strength lives within them that is stronger than the evil that threatens them.
I dream you’re imprisoned in a labor camp and you read what you wrote not so very long ago. You know the end is approaching, in many ways evil has triumphed, but you want that the meaning of singing will not be underestimated. You want their voices always to be heard.
You are eighteen and you are incinerated. Smoke turns itself into a cloud. You are air. You are the substance of dreams. The sheets of paper with your words are found by a girlfriend and smuggled out of a ghetto, through Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, through Austria, through Germany to Paris. Then finally Israel. From here the world begins to know your name.
I dream that a child’s swing hangs from the branches in a walled and shaded corner. Two windows from a far house blaze briefly, twice, in whiteness, and shoot late afternoon sunlight back at me here in the shadow, a someone opens and closes them.
In a language not my own, a woman’s voice calls out the name of a girl I recognise from a faded photograph. Three times she calls, with a breath between each naming and the girl, who was nowhere, darts from a tree behind her.
She places her hands over her mother’s eyelids and giggles.
She turns around to face her, smiles the smile only shared by children, raises forefinger to pursed lips and turns and skips to the voice of a folk song in the distant house beyond.