Poem of the Week / Growing Up in the Home of Holocaust Survivors

Ahead of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day in Israel – Yom Hashoah, in Hebrew – Haaretz asks, what was life like for the second generation?

Lior Mizrahi

Second generation
Yael Globerman

The man who almost wasn’t sits down at the table.
The woman who barely made it serves him plum cake.
This is my home: It is good here. Safe.
Mother leans on Father. Father leans on shadow.
At night they tiptoe into my room in beekeepers suits,
rub my temples with wax.
We are a very warm family.
The floor burns under our feet.

We believe in walls. Believe less in a roof.
It has to be built every morning anew. We build.
There is ammunition in the medicine cabinet
and a bribe in the bank for the guard
who lets us steal across the border every night.
Silence is the pitch that stops up gaps, seals the floors.
I hear something deep roaring and surging:
There’s a sea underneath the foundations of home.

II
This house is filled with love. Father is strong
And mother good-looking.
Gershwin could have written our lullaby.
What good will this sorrow do
Where will I lead this sorrow
Where will I sit it down when it gets here
What will I give it to eat

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden.

***
Tel Aviv-born writer Yael Globerman has published a novel and two poetry collections. Her poems in translation have been published in anthologies and magazines in Europe and the United States; she herself translates poetry from English and teaches in the creative writing program at the Oranim Academic College in northern Israel.

“Second generation” is Israeli shorthand for children of Holocaust survivors. Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Day, for short) is marked this year on April 28, 10 days before Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut). The date was chosen in 1953 to fit the prevalent Israeli narrative: The Nazis tried to destroy the Jews who couldn’t defend themselves though there were a few who tried to resist; we Israelis learned from the Holocaust and made our own army but some soldiers died in wars and some Israelis have died at the hands of terrorists. We remember them all on Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day (Yom a Zikharon, Memorial Day for short).

The martyrs of course are all dead, as are so many heroes; it would seem fitting to modify the commemoration to "Holocaust Martyrs, Heroes, Survivors and Descendants Remembrance Day" – unwieldy, but someone will find an acronym. A Haifa University study found that “Holocaust survivor parents were emotionally engaged in a survival struggle in which the world was viewed as a threatening reality filled with unexpected events; the parents continually prepared themselves for the unknown.” The trauma and the over-protectiveness are often passed along to the third generation and a case could be made that current Israeli policy is also based on a view of the world as a “threatening reality.”

This poem describes just such a home. The “silence” is typical of the second generation’s upbringing – many survivors did not talk about their particular experiences. The sea beneath the foundations is both the suppressed emotional turbulence and the connection to Europe. The reference to George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is ironic – obviously the “living” wasn’t “easy.” In the last four lines the poet presents the sorrow as though it were alive – a difficult guest or pet.

Musings:
*In earlier versions, there are question marks after the last four lines. Why has the poet chosen to omit them?

*Bonus: To honor the heroes, the partisan’s anthem as performed by Chava Alberstein: 

Moti Kikayon