For Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I want to share a brief snippet from Charles Reznikoff’s “Holocaust,” a long poem adapted from testimonies from the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials. I learned quite a bit about the poem (and about memorializing the holocaust) from Todd Carmody’s challenging article on it. Carmody argues Reznikoff’s poetry rejects theories of holocaust commemoration/pedagogy that try to afford the audience access to the victims’ subjective experiences and that rely on identification and experiental recreation. Rather, “Holocaust” prizes objectivity and distance, insisting on the reader’s distance from the events described and refusing to imbue them with ideological weight. This contrasts sharply with, for instance, prosecutor Gideon Hausner’s Zionist rhetoric and framing of testimonies at the Eichmann trial. The article is fascinating and highly recommended, though by no means endorsed in toto.
The snippet, which you can hear Reznikoff reading here (starting at 5:50), comes from the section on the gas chambers and is, as you might expect, quite brutal:
If someone stopped to ask what would become of them, he answered: “The men will have to work, of course, building streets and houses; but the women will not have to.
If they wish they can help in the kitchen.”
But a woman screamed at the police captain who was watching,
“The blood of my children on your head!”
And he lashed her across the face with his whip
and drove her into the gas chamber.
“Naked in winter,” one of the German civilians watching said to the Professor of Public Health—
standing beside him—
“enough to kill them.”
“That’s what they are here for,” the Professor answered drily.