Poetry / Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach
:: How to Survive a Heat Wave in Auschwitz ::
1. Hire uniformed Germans— Volkswagen interns—to replace barbed wire so it doesn’t show the wear of winter or tourism. 2. Ask visitors to guess how many thousands it took to collect the rooms full of hair & tooth- brushes & suitcases & names. Wait until they fail to see object as body. Then, tell them that hair doesn’t go through preservation & will decay someday like bone. 3. Let crowds gather at the gates & listen to them push their way inside, “Come on, it’s Auschwitz! Everybody wants to get in,” one yells in English. 4. Mark each group with different colored stickers signifying tour-guide language & disregard the irony of walls displaying triangles & stars—different colors signifying type & race & likelihood of being counted or remembered. 5. Put up ice cream & snack vendors just outside the entrance to encourage family picnics on the manicured lawn & invite a father to carry his two-year-old down into the cells of block 11—where I could barely breathe—& allow a mother to line her children up against the reconstructed death wall for a photo & again under the words “Arbeit macht frei” & later still a family- selfie with a crematorium & gas chamber backdrop. Leave the ashes cropped out. 6. But don’t turn on the mist showers placed near the facilities’ entrance to make the visit more pleasant on one of the hottest days of the year.
:: Ghazal Refusing to Name the Holocaust ::
After the October 27, 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life—Or L'’Simcha Congregation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the April 27, 2018, shooting at Poway Synagogue, San Diego, California Your poetry is so much more relevant now that the Holocaust is back in fashion, someone said, because without the Holocaust, do we not know how to die? To grieve? To lose? To hold each other against shaking trees? To feel connected by more than the whole cost of our senseless, constant dying? My babushka would never tell the story of her husband shot at Babi Yar as Holocaust, would scream about a Nazi’s hands around her neck, his hands under her skirt, his hands his hands, she would relive the whole accost of him and never name herself survivor. When Rose was named eldest among the dead, did the trees not burn? Tear out their roots? Holy cost of dying. When she was named survivor, did you not shake and weep the same as when they told you she had not survived the Holocaust? Did you not cling to someone’s trunk so hard that it became a body you could lose, your own arms branching holy, costing you to fall uprooted. So say their names: Melvin, Irving, Jerry, Cecil, David, Daniel, Bernice, Sylvan, Joyce, Richard, Rose, and now Lori. Don’t simply name them Holocaust.
From the writer
:: Account ::
How to Survive a Heat Wave in Auschwitz
While participating in the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellowship, I spent three days at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial (ABMM). I could not engage with the space on any emotional level while I was there because I was far too distracted by the number of children and strollers and people taking selfies in spaces where others were exterminated. It felt like other “attractions” like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower rather than a memorial to murdered millions. The site stands as reminder, an affirmation of past atrocity, and thousands flock there yearly. However, this state-run institution also serves as a global representative of Holocaust history and thereby overshadows other equally necessary Holocaust narratives. Most troubling to me though is that through its very form, elements of the site paradoxically re-enact—re-perpetrate—the horrific past they seek to memorialize. After returning home, I read news of sprinklers being put up at the gates of ABMM to keep tourists comfortable, and this poem emerged in response.
Ghazal Refusing to Name the Holocaust
An article initially titled “97-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor among the 11 Killed in Synagogue Mass Shooting” misidentified one of the victims, Rose, as a Holocaust survivor and has since been retitled, “Remembering the 11 Slain in Synagogue Massacre: ‘We’ve All Just Been Crying Endlessly.’”
But does this misnaming change anything? Is the tragedy in Pittsburg not as devastating? Not as relevant to all people, Jews and non-Jews alike? Invoking the Holocaust has incredible power, for better and for worse. The atrocity gets used and misused, and its misuse is talked about far less. That being said, we shouldn’t have to be brought back to such unfathomable terror of the past to realize this atrocity, and so many others under the current administration, are terror in and of themselves. Why rely on invoking past hatred when all we have to do is look around our present to see the hate growing? I didn’t feel ready to write this poem days after the shooting. Or even return to it just months later after yet another one. I remember shaking and trying to hold it together. I still don’t feel I have the right to write this poem. And yet all I can do is write this poem, shaking and holding on to my family, my friends, holding on to love and poetry.
Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach (www.juliakolchinskydasbach.com) emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She is the author of The Many Names for Mother (Kent State University Press, 2019), winner the Wick Poetry Prize, and The Bear Who Ate the Stars (Split Lip Press, 2014). She has two forthcoming collections: Don’t Touch the Bones, winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize, will be published by Lost Horse Press in Spring 2020, and 40 WEEKS, written while pregnant with her now 3‑month-old daughter, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2021. Her poems appear in POETRY, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. Julia is the editor of Construction Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philly with her two kids, two cats, one dog, and one husband, occasionally blogging about motherhood.