Christmas in Auschwitz

Between March 18 1944 and April 4 1945, half a million Hungarian Jews, Roma, homosexuals and political dissidents were transported to extermination camps, mostly in Poland and Austria. Tens of thousands were enslaved in labour camps. Almost three-quarters of Hungary's Jewish population perished. The Jewish-Hungarian poet András Mezei (1930-2008) survived the Holocaust as well as the three-month siege of Budapest. His life was inevitably shaped by these events. Throughout his long writing career, he returned repeatedly to the terrible experiences of his childhood, notably in Piled-up Time, Dual Ties, The Miracle Worker, Jewish Poems, Adorno and Treble - assembling a poetic collage of eye-witness accounts of racist mass murder. Christmas in Auschwitz brings together, for the first time in English, all of Mezei's most important poems about the Hungarian Holocaust.

Sample Poems

Poor Folk

If you and your family must be taken away,
at least do right by us, we are poor folk
and to you it is now all the same —
we'll send the children over to collect,
may the Eternal Lord keep you
and we will save your valuables,
in case you return.


After the Jews had been taken
the gendarmes combed through all of Derecske
and found granny Krammer in hiding,
she was ninety-three years of age,
and also Eve Németi's little brother,
just three years old and a day or two.
They were dispatched in earnest haste
to the rest of the transport still in Nagyvárad
to catch up with the deportation,
so that even those two should not be missing
from the round six million.

The 20179th

Like ink on the blotting paper, the number
tattooed in Auschwitz splinters and spreads
on the inside of my lower left arm
when I ride the tram in the summer
and, forgetting myself, I happen
to reach up in my short-sleeved shirt
to hang on to the strap.

*    *    *    *    *

May I never lift my right arm
if I forget the mark on my left.


'Another triumph from Smokestack, which has become a press with formidable integrity and international reach.'

Other Poetry

'Moving, memorable - and unrelenting. Mezei, a child of the Budapest ghetto, somehow survived the Holocaust but never came to terms with the obscenity, the unbelievable destruction of his family and community. Thomas Land has translated these poems from the Hungarian with precise dedication. They are hewn out nightmare.'

Bernard Kops, Jewish Chronicle

'This little known but horrible aspect of the Holocaust finds memorable testimony in András Mezei's poetry. There is nothing more important than the recuperation of this almost lost history, especially in an era when forgetting seems to be the key word.'

Daniel Weissbort

‘an exemplary collection. This is literatute of real seriousness and skill.’

Mistress Quicky’s Bed