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Vilem Pollak

The following poem was written by Vilem Pollak, a Holocaust poet who died in his teens at Terezin in 1945. The poem was  translated from the original Czech by Martin Rocek and Colin Ward. Rocek explained the story to Ward in an email: "Pollak was a friend of my father; they were in Terezin together, survived the selection in Auschwitz, were in a slave labor camp afterwards, and then on a hunger march at the end. My father was one of the few who survived the march (just barely). The poem is called "Deti" (Children) and presumably refers to what are known as the Bialystok children—if I have the details correct, there was an agreement to ransom some children from Bialystok, but they were in such bad shape that they were transferred to Terezin and put into a special isolated area with better conditions. The deal fell through and they were gassed in Auschwitz. Pollak of course did not know this—he just knew that a strange group of children was brought to an isolated part of Terezin, and that they suddenly disappeared."

The Children

by Vilem Pollak
translated by Martin Rocek and Colin Ward

Against the wind, beneath these icy skies,
the long queue lurched in packed anticipation.
Could my eyes, my disbelieving eyes,
be seeing ghosts? Be seeing apparitions?

Like tubers buried deep beneath the earth
that sprouted prematurely, tiny blips,
they came, then went, as one denying birth—
gone from our lips, yes, even from our lips.

The darkness blanches into memory,
recalling the light traces of that day,
each child's crusade, though in no hurry,
is under way, already under way.

The roots of that disordered walk have strayed
beyond the flowered path and rooted pack.
I ache for blossoms, petals bright and splayed,
their exodus and promised journey back.

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