Poetry News

"To take leave of our home / is all the time that we have left." Tablet Shares the Story of Simkha-Bunim Shayevitch, the Poet of Lotz Ghetto

By Harriet Staff

A profoundly sad but profoundly beautiful article by Holocaust survivor Chava Rosenfarb has been posted by Tablet, translated from the original Yiddish. It tells the story of a Jewish man named Simkha-Bunim Shayevitch, who wrote poetry in order to cope while living in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Below, the author excerpts a letter Shayevitch wrote to the Lodz's slumlord, Chaim Rumkowski, begging for a job that would allow him to write:

[Shayevtich] goes on to confess: “I swear to you that I have never in my life experienced such bitterness. In the month of Sivan my father died, and after 30 days so did my mother. And how it grieves my conscience that I could do nothing to save them! Now I am forced to watch my 5-year old daughter and my wife waste away. The child is frequently ill, while I haven’t got the slightest means (to save her).”

He also confides to Rosenstein, “I am in the process of writing a long poem about the ghetto. Our colleague, Mrs. Ulinover, pressed my hand, saying that the poem will be a monument to our experiences in the ghetto, and other such superlatives …”

He adds, “As you surely know, work in the Vegetable Place lasts from dawn until late in the evening. The people in my poem frequently flutter before my mind’s eye with their supplications; the more daring ones with bitterness and threats, while those who are the most highhanded lash my heart with bitter reproaches, ‘Why did you leave us? Why don’t you say, “let there be light” in our temporary chaos? You made little demons out of us.’ One such character, half monster, half clown, teases me, ‘Heaven forbid! You may not live to finish your work!’ ”

...Shayevtich found himself among those who were at the very bottom of the ghetto hierarchy, the poorest of the poor; those who were the first to be sent away. He knew that any day he too might receive “a wedding invitation”—as the ghettoniks called a summons for deportation—and together with his wife and child be ordered to join the procession of those headed to the place of assembly.

It was then that he put aside the long poem he had been working on and wrote “Lekh-Lekho.” In this poem he shows himself a prophet, intuitively feeling that these marches to the assembly place were marches toward separation and death.

Read the full article here.

Originally Published: September 14th, 2012