Warsaw Ghetto Poetry now Online
Los Angeles-based Dr Sarah Traister Moskovitz has translated the poetry written in Yiddish by Jews trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto into English…and now on line thanks to the web site developed by her son in Wellington.
The site, Poetry in Hell, containing the complete collection of poems from the Warsaw Ghetto’s Ringelblum Archives has just been launched. The poems are freely available for the first time at poetryinhell.org in the original Yiddish along with the English translations.
“It’s like a time capsule of ghetto life,” explains 82-yr-old Moskovitz. “The poems describe the daily actions, emotions, insights, and wisdom of people living in the ghetto, covering a wide range of topics, presented with the sensitivity and beauty that one can only express using poetry. While the Yiddish language is particularly beautiful, the English translations are easy to read and will make the poems accessible to a far wider group of readers and to future generations.”
The project undertaken by Dr Moskovitz, a Professor Emeritus from California State University, Northridge, has taken nearly 10 years to complete.
Noted Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum describes Poetry in Hell as a “sacred task of bearing witness … read Poetry in Hell as you might any collection of poetry, but read it also as a record of history and of spiritual defiance by both the poets and their archivists … Some could preserve their souls, could cherish the word until the very end. They believed and perhaps we too must believe, that the word can become eternal.”
The Warsaw Ghetto experience is perhaps best summed up by poet Zusman Segalovitch, who writes in his poem “Not Everyone Comes Here”:
Not everyone joyfully comes here to celebrate,
That is not everyone’s fate.
The earth and its autumn orchards
Is a bright and golden place.
My friends! Let us search together
For a place to hide our pain –
No suffering, no fear, no danger
Exist in the golden flames.
About Dr Moskovitz
Sarah Traister Moskovitz received her Ph.D from Yeshiva University, and served as a visiting scholar at US Holocaust Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. The daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants to the US, she lost many relatives who were killed during the war. She spoke Yiddish as her mother tongue and laments its decline. “To tap that deep core in me where my Yiddish voice lives is the best way I know to honor its vitality and protest the genocide of millions of its speakers. When I write in Yiddish I restore the bond between myself and my murdered family in Poland and all my people whose daily language it was.”
About the Ringelblum Archives
Historian Emmanuel Ringelblum, like many other Jews, was forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War. He established the “Oyneg Shabbes” archives, which recorded artefacts from the daily lives of the ghetto residents in minute detail. Included in the archives were the poems contained in the “Poetry in Hell” collection. The poetry was buried in three milk cans underneath the ghetto before it was liquidated in 1943. Two of the milk cans were recovered in 1946 and 1950, and the third has never been found.
Her son Dave Moskovitz, an IT specialist in Wellington, told J-Wire: “ It’s an amazing project that provides insight into the daily lives of people living in the ghetto. The Internet is the perfect medium for this kind of archive project; it would be a real shame if it were restricted to books on shelves in niche libraries that were accessible only to researchers.
To the people with family who died in the Ghetto; to people who can’t imagine how humanity can express itself under such conditions; to people craving a window into the final days of Yiddish culture as it existed in its heyday; to historians, and especially to the holocaust deniers – Poetry In Hell is an ongoing testament to the depth of artistic expression, the complexity of human interaction, and the intricate perception of Yiddish culture that Hitler could not extinguish.”
He added: “I built the framework for the web site, and it’s hosted on my server, and the idea for producing the project as a freely available resource for anyone to use on the Internet originated in my living room. Hosting, bandwidth, and technical support are provided by Thinktank Consulting and Actrix Networks – two New Zealand companies with a history of supporting projects that benefit the public good.”