Monday, June 11, 2012

Hanging



For years, I taught Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir, Night, in my community college classroom. Night is the story of Elie and his father's life inside the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Holocaust. It is spare, heart-wrenching, and honest. He tells the tale of a people moved from humanity to degradation and the unraveling of relationships caused by such inhumanity. Many times, broken relationships were that of fathers and sons, but they were also broken relationships with G-d. Elie struggles to hold onto his relationship with his own father while, at the same time, despairs over the violent breakdown of his relationship with G-d.

While teaching, my students and I found ourselves stopping at the same passage:

A young boy is arrested and hanged by the Nazis for not giving up his superior who was planning a revolt. The entire camp stood helplessly by as they watched this young boy die slowly. While death surrounds them everyday, the boy's death beats them down. His hanging even shakes the guards.

Beyond my classroom, this passage propelled me into my graduate research. However, the one piece missing from the conversation was the perspective of this Jewish boy slowly dying as his Jewish community  powerlessly watches.

So, I wrote what I imagined his was thinking:


Hanging

Swinging from nowhere
Darkness engulfs me.
They are forced to watch me
Hang here
Swing here
Choke here

I listen to their cries below me.
Muffled, anguished
“Where is God?” an old man screams
Shouts
Prays
Withers

Their empty eyes stare at me
Begging me,
Looking to me for answers
To their ancient riddle
Their timeless prayer
“Where is God?”

Is he inside our dying bodies?
Is he in our enemy’s large, animal hands?
Is he in the men watching their sons
Turn into monsters?
Is he in the elderly languishing
Back into children?

A teenager’s eyes meet mine: my tongue hanging from my mouth.
My lungs silently gasping for breath

He is skin and bones and hope and horror
He is change and sorrow and fear and life
He is my future, my past
He is my language, my story, my epitaph
He is my God; He is my people
He is my reason for hanging

“Where is God?” they shriek
Watching me hang here
My people ache

“Where is God?”
“God is here
Hanging from the Gallows.[1]


[1]  The last line is a quote from Elie Wiesel’s memoir  Night, p 69




read to be read at yeahwrite.me

21 comments:

  1. Wow. That was powerful and arresting to read. Great job!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That was incredible. Your description of the teenager is brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Night is one of my favorite books. I try to read it every Christmas, but I don't really know why that feels like the right time to immerse myself in that story. That was such a powerful piece of Wiesel's story, and your deeply personal response was perfect. Thanks for sharing. Erin

    ReplyDelete
  4. I read that book. So so so sad. Great words.

    ReplyDelete
  5. What a poem. It involves so much of the Holocaust tragedy. Well written. I'm crying now.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Breathtaking and heart-wrenching.

    ReplyDelete
  7. That was absolutely stunning. I have no words. Except, keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow, this was breathtaking. I really loved it!!

    Thanks for the powerful read!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh, lucky students to have such a teacher as this.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This was incredible.
    You have moved me to tears.
    Absolutely great job!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Oh, this is hard to read. I'm always hushed to tears with thoughts of the Holocaust. It just wasn't that long ago...So sad. Beautifully written.

    ReplyDelete
  12. As a Jew, the Holocaust is one of the reasons I find myself not believing in God, but that's because my father's side is Christian, and to them God fixes everything. I know that's not the Jewish belief, but it's so hard when you're stuck in the middle.

    Great great post.

    ReplyDelete
  13. So well done. You should be very proud of yourself. Excellent work here.

    ReplyDelete
  14. My kids attend a day school and this was the year that we really talked about the Shoah. This was the year that my son asked who in our family was murdered and what their stories were.

    Hard questions, not easily answered.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Shosh,

    I love that you shared this. I'd be curious to know how to begin teaching MY kids about the Shoah? Do you know any age appropriate books for my twins that are 6 1/2? or other suggestions?

    You already know I think this is an exquisite (though sad, but a piece like this is expected to be so) poem. Love it & you.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Superb writing. I wonder how such madness could have ever occurred.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Yes, Night is a very intense and spare account. I almost can't bear to think of it now that I am a parent. Thank you for bringing it back to me. It's important.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think my heart stopped when I was reading this poem. Beautifully written.

    ReplyDelete