Sandra's Reviews > Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto

Requiem by Paul B. Janeczko
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May 17, 12

Read on May 17, 2012

The last book I read was Anne Frank a graphic biography. It was incredible, so when I spied this book on the store shelves, I eagerly nabbed it as my next read.

I realized that I didn't know much about the Terezin Ghetto, so I did a bit of research before beginning my read of the poems.

Terezin was originally a fortress town in Czechoslovakia. Hitler and his fellow Nazis turned it into a collection and transport camp for the Jewish people. How do you like the euphemisms collect and transport? The residents were basically kicked out, displaced in euphemistic terms and the transports began arriving.

The Nazi regime set this place aside as what they called a home for Jewish intellectuals and artists. In truth it was a propaganda tool. Something like, "We're good guys with a heart. Look at the kindness and encouragement we're handing out."

All right then. So in the midst of the horrors of captivity there were musical performances, lectures and other artistic endeavors.

The reality was a different tale, one of woe. "Musicians who performed beautifully one night were packed into cattle cars the next, transported to the gas chambers." So much for encouraging the arts.

By the time Terezin was liberated in 1945 140,000 European Jews had been through the camp, 35,000 never left but died of disease, starvation and brutality, and 87,000 were transported out to other camps.

The illustrations in the book are black and white sketches that survived the Holocaust. By themselves they speak volumes of heartbreak and fear. The last page of the collection is in shades of gray and shadowed forms. A lone man stands looking outward past a barbed fence. All we can see is the back of his body with arms spread wide reaching up toward the fence, his legs slightly bent appearing weakened and desperate. The simple poem on the opposite side reads

Blue sky
beyond
barbed wire.


I wish I were
sky.

Its poignancy and impact hit hard after reading the verses and looking at the original art on the previous 88 pages. The writing was by Janeczko. The art original work from the camp.

I read a few reviews that judged the book harshly because all of the poems except Valtr Eisinger/11956 on page 38 were the creation of Janeczko.

I shall always think of you.
Thoughts of you will be
my morning prayer when I get up
my evening prayer when I go to bed.
Memories of you will be a balm
to whatever blows fate deals me.

This stanza from Valtr Eisinger is part of a poem that covers two pages. It sings a song of love through the wire fences of the hell of the camp reaching through time to touch my heart.

I do not agree that the inclusion of Janeczko's original verses do not have the validity of the original art. Each is what it is for its time and place. The point made by Janeczko is that although the characters in the poems are fictional, many are composites based on his research while some individuals are his inventions. Many of the events in the poems did happen, such as the Red Cross inspection. He called upon his imagination and his humanity to conjure the emotions and feelings of those who lived through the horrors of the time.

Each poem is titled with a name and a number that would have appeared tattooed on one's arm. I think of these poems as historical verses. Another love poem touched my heart just as the original surviving one from the camp did.

My beloved,
I long
to know
the beat of your hear
again
and fill each
brief
silence
with a kiss
until
curved together
we sleep.

For me, the process of reading the imagined words from the camp, looking at the original found art, reading the verses and thinking about what happened is the point of reading the book. I am not saying that those who do not like reading historical fiction in the form of poems are wrong. I am saying that the book is heartfelt and deeply personal account of one specific camp and a whole generation of people. If it serves to develop greater depth of emotion and knowledge and more sensitivity, then so be it.

This is a fine book written with passion and emotion. Know that the poems come from facts, that they help us to imagine what lives were lived and lost. Lines such as music was "played as only the heartbroken can play" leave an indelible impression on the heart and on the mind.






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