On the eve of the Second World War,
34 percent of Lodz was Jewish.

Only 12 were mine.

Chanah and Schmuel were mine,
their children, whose names
I do not know, were mine.
They had a farm, candlesticks,
featherbeds, crockery.
Maybe a horse? A cow?

Two boys walked across Poland,
two boys were sent to America
fleeing pogroms, conscription.
Two boys escaped to Hamburg,
steerage, America.

What’s the world anyway
less two more Jews?
Still the world, no?

America, America.

Thank you, America
for uncle, grandfather.
Thank you my grandfather,
who somehow years later said
“Give. Always give.”
Thank you, America,
for my life.

In 1939 Lodz was occupied,
part of the Warthegau, the Reich,
bank accounts blocked, cash
restricted, cars, radios
taken, curfews imposed.

Still, on a small farm,
even a poor one there might
be hope, at least a few eggs,
some milk, potatoes feeding 12
not well, not enough to satisfy
even a child’s small stomach,
but something to barter, a bit
to share. Unless even this
was taken. I do not know, but
of course everything, eventually,
was taken.

In 1940, the ghetto, the Litzmannstadt
opened and thereafter deportations
to Chelmo. Conditions in the ghetto
are well documented. We know
the appalling lack of nutrition,
sanitation. We know. Starvation,
typhus, children with pinched faces,
empty eyes, skeletal bodies pushing
wheelbarrows, carrying bricks, bent
to rotten bread, watery soup.

We have seen these pictures.

Haunting haunted faces watching
from cattle car windows, receding
with the trains.

We have seen these pictures.

Silent stations, platforms loaded
with anonymous luggage, dolls,
eyeglasses, photographs, detritus
of lives scattered, lost.

We have seen these pictures.

How many Jews were left in Poland
after the war? None of mine.
Not my 12.

Dear Chanah and Schmuel,
dear great-grandparents,

what do I do with you,
with your endlessly young
children? How do I fit
your memory to this secular life?
Do you belong anywhere
except the wall over
the dining room table?
Your calm lost eyes watch
the comings and goings
of those for whom your own
seem to hold no relevance.

Forgive me.

There is no offering but this
to validate your existence.

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