by Ursula Duba

bold letters
on top of the page
this newsletter is dedicated
to all those
who perished
in the Holocaust

the German man,
now living in the USA
is proud of his efforts
to pay homage
to the victims of the Shoah
on the anniversary
of kristallnacht

but i am disturbed
by the word perish
in this dedication -
it conjures up images
of people dying in earth quakes
in a storm out on the open sea
in a hurricane or a tornado -

the word perish
does not tell me
about open ditches
rapidly filling up with the corpses
of innocent men women and children
shot by members of the einsatzgruppen and the Wehrmacht
it doesn't show me piles of emaciated bodies
deliberately starved to death
it doesn't show me ss guards
using victims for target practice
nor does it display the twisted bodies
of people who died
at the hands of doctors
who performed cruel experiments
in the name of science

there are no gas chambers
or perpetrators

weren't Jews Gypsies and non-Aryans
i ask the German man

yes of course
the victims of the Holocaust
were murdered
he answers
taken aback
by my question
but this word
sounds so aggressive
he says with dismay

after several days
of back and forth
on the telephone
the German man decides to delete the entire sentence
on top of the newsletter
rather than using the word murdered
in his dedication to the victims
of the Shoah

while discussing this
with several friends
we take note
that a lengthy article
in a leading magazine
had recently informed us
that most of the victims
of the massacres in Rwanda
had been hacked to death
by their Hutu neighbours -
no euphemisms there
as to how these victims died
and on discussing the
three million Cambodians
who died in the killing fields -
the language is quite clear -
they were starved to death
or brutally murdered
by the Kmer Rouge

On further probing
no one suggests
that John F. Kennedy and
Martin Luther King perished -
both were assassinated

a few weeks later
i ask a Holocaust survivor
what words would properly describe
the actions by which
six million died

they were exterminated
he says
without hesitation

this word immediately reminds me
of my first months
in an apartment in Brooklyn
and the discovery of cockroaches
in my kitchen cupboards

my next door neighbour
had told me then
look in the yellow pages
under exterminator

i heard Mike Wallace of 60 minutes
refer to all those who were lost
in Auschwitz

the word lost
makes me think
of my fear
of getting lost in foreign cities
on my travels abroad
when even maps
are of limited value
in those countries
which use different alphabets

the word also
calls up images
of thick forests
where hapless travelers
get lost
and i am reminded of
the story of Hansel and Gretel which used to make me appreciate
the safety of our crammed house
when i was a child

what with the twice a day roll-call
and the meticulous record keeping
of the German and Austrian concentration camp commanders
the chance of being lost in Auschwitz
or any other concentration camp
were very slim
my friend Dalia
explains to me
whose mother was gassed on the first day
of their arrival in Birkenau.

Ursula Duba is a non-Jewish German writer, who was born in Germany shortly before the outbreak of WWII. She grew up during WWII and during the impenetrable silence of the postwar years in Germany and has been living in the USA for the past 32 years. (For her latest book: "Tales from a Child of the Enemy", PENGUIN, please consult the bibliography section of this website.) This story-poem is published here with the writer's permission.