Theme 3: Ghetto, Hunger, Struggle

Theme III
Ghetto, Hunger, Struggle

The poems in this section bring us closer to the experience of living in oppressive circumstances of confinement in ghetto life. We start with the recognition by the young fourteen year old poet Solomon of Smotche of losing his strength. From the Lodz ghetto come two poems by L. Berman that appeared in the official publication of the ghetto: the first praises the ghetto president, Adam Czernowitz, whose spirits are raised when he visits the children in the ghetto and the second is a poem in which the president, who loves Jews who are peasants, urges the ghetto inhabitants to work the fields in the ghetto.

Yitzhok Katsenelson, a leading member of the Oyneg Shabbes resistance, beloved teacher and poet, wrote while confined in the Warsaw Ghetto. Though a secular Zionist, he recognized the importance of Torah and tradition as sources of comfort and inspiration. He wrote “An Invitation to Torah Study” in poetic form on the day the Warsaw Ghetto was locked inviting people to join in study as a form of resistance and freedom of thought while confined. (This poem appears in the Appendix since it was not found in the Ringelblum Archive.) But his poem “Der Bal”, was found in the Ringelblum Archive. In it he describes a starving family in the cellar of a Ghetto apartment house and a Ball on the upper floors attended by the Ghetto Committee.

In three poems, included here, Peretz Opochinsky tells us what it feels like to be “Homeless”, “Banned from the World, alone and starving”.

Pesakh Vayland (see poem about White Swans in Section I, Nature) was also starving in the Warsaw Ghetto and decided to write a request to Director Goyzhik for a monthly subsidy which some writers did receive. He chose to write it in the poetic form to prove he was a poet… It begins “Very honored and beloved Director, Mr. Goyzhik” and goes on to tell of his situation.

One poet in the Warsaw Ghetto was so popular that he was referred to by his first name alone, Hershele (Danielovitch). He wrote about his family starving. He too was so hungry, depleted and hopeless that he could not act on the advice of Yitzkhok Katsenelson to request a subsistence subsidy. Hershele died in the ghetto.

One of the most moving poems in this collection is by Itzhak Viner who was imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto. The poem is “My Childhood” in which he recalled the severe hunger he experienced as a young child growing up in poverty. He remembers how he and his childhood friends pretended to bake and eat loaves of bread they made of mud. Perhaps it may have comforted him and others in the Ghetto for a while to recall the hunger that had been overcome a long time ago.

The poem “Slupkes”, “Posts”, author unknown, is thought to be another poem written before the present time of oppression, about a previous time of persecution in which children were killed. Ber Mark, in (The Murdered Writers From the Ghetto, Warsaw, 1954) refers to this poem by an unknown author as “breathing with new life in present Ghetto circumstances”.

These poems reflect the daily intense struggle for survival and hope amidst poverty, starvation, chaos, homelessness, illness, loss of loved ones, and traumatic sights, round ups, shootings, hangings and mass expulsions.

Poems in this section include: