Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust

Nazi, neo-fascist and xenophobic parties are on the violent march again across Europe. Hiding behind the fear of immigrants and opposition to the EU, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, anti-Muslim and homophobic politics are now in the political mainstream. In Greece the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has almost 50 seats in parliament; in the Netherlands Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom recently adopted the old Dutch Nazi flag; in France Marine Le Pen’s Front National is currently running second in the opinion polls; the ‘radical nationalist’ Jobbik is now the third largest party in Hungary.

Between March 1944 and April 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. Survivors brings together, for the first time in English, poems about the Hungarian Holocaust by Dán Dalmát, Tamás Emőd, György Faludy, Eszter Forrai, Ágnes Gergely, Jenő Heltai,Frigyes Karinthy, Éva Láng, András Mezei, Thomas Ország-Land, Miklós Radnóti, Hanna Szenes, Magda Székely, Ernő Szép, Vera Szöllős, György Timár, Judit Tóth and István Vas.

Survivors is an anthology of poems about political barbarism. But it is also a book about life. These poets looked evil in the face, and dedicated their lives to warning humanity about Fascism.

Sample Poems

War Diary, 1935-36 - I: Monday Evening

These days the distant news dissolves the world
and often brings your heart to miss a beat – but
the trees of old still hold your childhood secrets
in their widening memory rings.

Between suspicious mornings and furious nights,
you have spent half your life corralled by war.
Upon the glinting points of the bayonets, striding
repression encircles you.

The land of your poetry may appear in your dreams
with the wings of freedom gliding above the meadows,
still sensed through the mist, and when the magic breaks
the elation may persist.

But you half-sit on your chair when you rarely dare
to work... restrained in grey and fearful mire.
Your hand still dignified by the pen moves forward,
more burdened day by day.

View the tide of clouds: the ravenous thunderhead
of the war is devouring the gentle blue of the sky.
With her loving, protective arms around you
sobs your anxious bride.

War Diary, 1935-36 - II: Tuesday Evening

I can sleep calmly now, and methodically
I go about my business... despite the gas,
grenades and bombs and aircraft made to kill me.
I’m past the fear, the rage. I cannot cry.
So I have come to live as hard as teams
of road-builders high among the windy hills:
when their light shelters
decay with age,
they build new shelters
and soundly sleep in beds of fragrant wood-shavings
and splash and dip their faces at dawn in cool
and radiant streams.

* * *

I spy out from this hilltop where I live:
the clouds are crowding.
As the watch on the mainmast over stormy seas
will bellow when, by a lightning’s flash, at last
he thinks he sees
a distant land,
I also can discern from here the shores of peace:
I shout: Compassion!
...My voice is light.

The chilly stars respond with a brightening light,
my word is carried far by the chilly breeze
of the deepening night.

War Diary, 1935-36 - III: Weary Afternoon

A slowly dying wasp flies through the window.
My woman dreaming... muttering in her sleep.
The clouds are turning brown. Along their edges
caressed by the breeze, white ripples teem.

What can I say?... The winter comes and war comes.
I shall fall broken, abandoned without any reason
and worm-ridden earth will fill my mouth and eye-pits
and through my corpse, fresh roots will sprout.

* * *

Oh, peaceful, swaying afternoon, lend me your calm!
I too must rest for a while, I will work later.
Your sunrays hang suspended from the shrubs
as the evening saunters across the hill.

The blood of a fine fat cloud has smeared the sky.
And beneath the burning leaves, the scented yellow
berries are ripening, swelling with wine.

War Diary, 1935-36 - IV: Evening Approaches

The sun is descending down a slippery sky.
The evening is approaching early, sprawling
along the road. The watchful moon has missed it.
Pools of mist are falling.

The evening’s whirling sounds among the branches
grow louder. The hedges wake to turn and tilt
at weary travellers. These lines clasp one another
as they are slowly built.

And now!.. a squirrel invades my quiet room
and runs two brown iambic lines, a race
of terror between my window and the wall
and flees without a trace.

My fleeting peace has vanished with the squirrel.
Outside in the fields, the vermin silently spread,
digesting slowly the endless, regimented,
reclining rows of the dead.


'worth its place on the bookshelf of any collector of Holocaust literature, of anyone who values poetry as the fierce estuary of memory.'

The Jerusalem Report

'some of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching lyrics about this previously unimaginable process that divested people of heir humanity and turned them to ashes.'

New English Review

'Now, more than ever, volumes of work such as this are so vitally important... these poems must be read and heeded.'

Write Out Loud

‘This is not just a book of poetry, it’s a testament. It comes from a place we should shun and for that reason reading it is unforgettable.’

Mistress Quickly’s Bed