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ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION

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HOLOCAUST POETRY

by Lois E. Olena

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For the past seven years Lois Olena has been transcribing Holocaust survivor interviews for the Gratz College Holocaust Oral History Archive in Philadelphia, where she did an M.A. in Jewish Studies. It is only in recent months that she has begun writing poetry based on her experience of hearing close to 500 survivor/liberator/witness first-hand accounts of this horrendous Nazi brutality. "Time is running out for gathering these first-hand accounts, and it is important that as much material as possible be archived so as to combat the lunacy of the revisionists. Also, as a Christian, I feel it is important for the Christian world to understand Jewish history and to do all that we can to assure that nothing like what happened under Hitler will ever happen again. Poetry has a way of moving people to feel--in some small, but very personal, way--what the victims of the Holocaust suffered." hline.gif - 2.4 K

The Archivist

by Lois E. Olena

Note by note I type the awful history of the victims of the Third Reich. Misery like dirt under my fingernails plays out through my soft, safe digits; haunting violin tones fade away as the next song begins slowly sparingly luscious soft chords rock me, caress me... rock me, sway me... side to side like a cattle car fading into the distance. What is this caught in my throat? turnips? raw potatoes? black bread? No matter; move on, they're waiting. Hurry, finish. Pay your bills. Feed your face. Play your PC piano until weariness from the death march lays you gently down in the snow for your afternoon nap and you dream that the knock on your door is the UPS man come to take you away.

11/9/96, Based on the transcription work for the Gratz College Holocaust Oral History Archive hline.gif - 2.4 K

Behind the Monastery
Lois E. Olena

My fingers froze today when I stood in the rain behind a Polish monastery- cold wet arms heavy, shaking with fear and my allowed bundle. The light from the candles of my warm home followed after me like long shadows chasing, crying for my return. Front door agape gentile rape trucks at the gate goyische ants in a long line carrying off 600 years of history, tucking it lustily into their conscience-seared pockets. Bone wet I watch as Council members under rifle dig obediently and the earth opens up to swallow my rabbi and his sons. Mach schnell! I hear in my nightmare... and as I turn to leave, I notice that the earth still moves where they buried my heart.

12/11/96 Lois E. Olena -written in the midst of typing the survivor testimony of M.K. "My fingers did freeze, and I couldn't go on until I wrote about this." Lois Olena hline.gif - 2.4 K

Homeland
Lois E. Olena

It was Christmas eve and there was no room in the inn, the Oswiecim inn, so the Arrow Cross took the children, barefooted and in their nighties, out to the Danube and filled their little bellies not with bread but bullets flipping them like tiddlywinks into the congealing, icy river below. It was the Red Danube that night, choking on the blood of orphan Jews whose little Blue faces floated downstream touring even all of Europe until they washed up on the shores of Eretz Yisrael and came back to life, their little blue and white bodies raised high, flapping in the wind.

12/18/96 Lois E. Olena, based on the true account of a Hungarian survivor of the Holocaust.

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Panning For Gold by by Lois E. Olena

(a poem from a poem)

Slaves, these speculators, calves hugged by bony mud fingers wrapped like bread ties around shovels marked to transport one last time- earth to earth, grave to field.
Nazi grinding machines pulverize at last these bones that grew in mother's womb now from this tomb brought out and crushed.
They sprinkle these upon the earth like so much dust but first Jews must sieve fast for gold. look close! that Piece! that Golden Shine! from teeth now scattered, left behind.

1/31/97

Written after reading the poem, "Holocaust," by Charles Reznikoff, Jewish-American narative poet, 1894-1976. ("Holocaust," written in 1975, was based on details taken from the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials. Trained as a lawyer and a journalist, Reznikoff's poetry "presents facts with straightforward * immediacy without commenting on them directly." *

I could not help but comment upon the story he told in this portion of his poem, where he describes a group of Jewish inmates being forced to exhume a mass grave and dispose of the bones by grinding them and spreading them on a nearby field. Before they did, though, they were forced to sift the crushed bones of the victims to find any gold from their teeth.

*From the book Holocaust Poetry, p. 216 (edited by Hilda Schiff)

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Selection

He said he was my brother, this son of Esau, this redeemed soul giving guided tours of Israel.
Fat old ladies hung on his words, looking up at him, (the handsome darling), squirming with an uneasy delight as he tickled their chins with feathers of information.
He was my new hero, too, until the day we alighted onto Jerusalem like hungry little Christian flies lapping up the dung of history.
It was then that I looked at the schedule and voiced my virgin thought, "Aren't we going to Yad Vashem? It's not far from here."
He turned, then, "Yes, oh, well, I guess. You'll have a choice at lunch. We'll park near there and if you won't eat you'll have 30 minutes to go through the museum."
I waited. I looked up at him. He shifted his weight. "It's enough, you know. I mean, it happened, yes. But enough talk... Did I mention, by the way, that I still have the keys to my mother's house in east Jerusalem?"
So there I stood, in front of this man, making my selection left or right lunch or death.
Bruised by the gauntlet of his pugnacious words I turned, wiping up the blood that had spurted from my ears boxed numb from initiation.
I choose death, I say. No question about it. After all, it's only for half an hour.


1/21/97, about going to Yad Vashem in 1987 (after coming face to face with Arab anti-Semitism for the first time) hline.gif - 2.4 K

Ghosts on My Bookshelf

There are others, I'm sure, aware of how they did it- Anne and Primo- but not I. Ignorant of their methods, their brutal, final blows, I muse this peaceful morning on their nagging despairs, swirling around like the light brown coffee under my chin.
Unique, her hopelessness, from his, of course, but pain is pain. Her poetry bleeds years of pain; one wonders, is this art fiction? Or auto-biographical screams from the cliff?
Primo emerges from death, to life, to death. I know more of his nightmares. I have heard the voices, hundreds, of his fellow survivors, those who came from death (but to life! To life!) My son, the doctor, my granddaughter, ach, you should see her.
But you, Anne, who could have done these things to you? What monster mother? What evil man? What demon of torture? What self hate? How friendless you look there, how pale.
I am surprised, Mr. Levi, that thousands more have not followed you, stabbed by the unconscionable news that you and they themselves are not believed, that there are men (men?) who walk this earth laughing denying learning nothing while the soil under their ghoulish feet rumbles with muted history.
One would think the streets would be full of raving lunatics- Jews, Gypsies, and other escapee "vermin"- screaming, waving daggers, threatening self-destruction to end this torment, this up-at-night relived madness of theirs.
Instead, over 50 years ago now they changed clothes grew hair raced into a lover's arms rushed to a midwife's hands bundled the baby and hopped ship leaving that damn continent behind, trading nothing for barely something, making a future from one dress sold and a profit made to buy another and soon-look- we have enough for our own little shop.
My daughter, the CPA, my son, the lawyer. "Papa was a cattle dealer. My Zayde was the shochet in our village. Mama fed the poor when they would come to our house, wanting. Bubbe waved her dough-smooth hands over candles on Shabbat. Me, I died, then washed up nearly alive in America the beautiful, in Eretz Yisrael, land of kings, priests, prophets, bloodied warriors."
Anne? I don't know you very well. But Primo, I think you didn't just want to live, or to be left alone, but at least, at the very least, to be believed.

-Lois E. Olena 1/11/97, thinking about the suicides of poets Anne Sexton and Primo Levi hline.gif - 2.4 K

Teaching the Holocaust

They wanted to know, so I came, took them by the hand and led them down to the shore. "There is no gear here to wear," I said. "Here we walk out together til the water is to our necks, then we take deep breaths and go under. We keep our eyes open though what we see will sting them. In this abyss of red we will tread hard with arms and legs strong from youth. We will listen for the earth's groaning as we swim, and feel the waves of her weariness as our own lungs are crushed in the chambers of history."

2/27/97, after teaching a fifth grade class about the Holocaust (2/26/97)

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Lois Olena was raised in a Christian home, father was a pastor, attended Christian college, presently involved in inner city and hospital visitation ministry happily married 16 years, two children (6 ; 8) B.S. in Bible, M.A. in Jewish Studies, licensed minister co-partner in home business, "Keystrokes" (computer business) also has self-published a book of poetry - "Words in Your Ear"
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kimel@systec.com