Two Poems

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 


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 ( 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.