Eugene H. Davis worked as a writer and editor in Los Angeles and Europe. His fiction has appeared in The Pacific Review and a teleplay was produced in Germany. His film reviews have appeared in Magill’s Cinema Annual. He is the editor of a book on pre-Columbian art for Rizzoli and recently completed a novel entitled A Father’s Tale. He is a member of the Florida Writers’ Association and teaches English and creative writing in Florida.
Howl No More
Seventy-five odd years ago, Germany,
Once the most cultured nation in the world,
Unleashed its vision of benighted darkness,
An auto-da-fé smoldering
Deep within mankind’s secret heart,
Fanned by the Svengali of Primeval
Whose name, like Haman’s,
Forks the tongue and falls, accursed,
Down, down, down,
Through the runnels of time,
But my issue is not with this Beast,
Who like a leavening in the collective
Bread of mankind,
Rises up through the centuries,
To accuse and incite against my people,
Whipping the blighted masses
Into acts of gimlet-eyed cruelty and bloodletting.
Nor is it with the bystanders,
Bullied into collaborating,
Gleeful practitioners of the age-old curse of Shadenfreude,
Planted, in the limbic brain like a black jewel,
At the sight of Jewish blood.
Flesh and bone of martyred, sainted heroes –
Mothers, fathers, babes, teachers, rabbis, sisters,
Brothers all – for what? For what I demand!
Where were you then, Oh Holy One, oh righteous One,
Oh, Thou, all loving, exacting judge and redeemer,
Yea, ye of 613 commandments,
And a thousand and one rituals, and more!
You, who silently condoned the slaughter of believers,
Who went like the martyrs of old,
To their deaths with your name
On their parched lips.
Now, amid summer’s lushness,
I wander the Places of torture and murder
Of Jews, Poles, Sinta and all deemed “Unlebenswurdig.”
I stumble, blinded, stunned, blasted, howling,
See the shoes, the shoes, the shoes of the dead,
Spared from the fires of the Inferno by being soul-less.
And I cannot comprehend, God help me, the darkness
That festers in the wilderness of the human soul.
From Germany to Czech lands,
From the Palatine to Galicia,
From Riga to Latvia,
All across the Christian lands
Where Jew and Gentile once lived in tense truce,
I visit with my 30 righteous colleagues
The places of sad remembrance, amid the artifacts
Of Germany’s precise machinery of death.
The Polish Pale is awash in butterflies and the wonders of creation,
Flora and fauna,
Where once Jewish life flourished
In a renaissance of culture and religion,
And of mystical longing for salvation
Signaled by the coming of Elijah.
Who has not read the enchanting tales
Of the Bal Shem Tov recounted by
An expatriate Polish Jew
By the name of I.B. Singer?
Who has not marveled at the miracles
Of shtetl Rebs, faced with
The treachery of nobles,
Who outsmarted their enemies,
Or rose on angel wings of prayer to escape
Certain and ignoble death?
Such was the imaginative tapestry of Chasidic romanticism,
But no Shield against the Steely geomancy
Of the new and faithless Crusaders,
Who set themselves up as cynical murderous gods.
Softly, softly, I tread the shadow
Of the valley of death,
Renewed in spirit in the knowledge
That my brethren did not go
To their deaths like sheep,
But fought the oppressor in countless
Myriad ways of spirit and mind and fist and guts
And gun and knife and stick and club
And prayer and art and cry defiant,
As their loved ones rose to heaven
In columns of blackened smoke,
Only to descend, angel dust,
Upon the blessed and accursed alike.
And everywhere, as we light our candles and recite
The Kaddish and sing the Shema,
An affirmation of our heroes, not victims,
I have my answer –
I have my answer, dear God.
Flesh and blood could never be sacrificed in vain,
But stands, in the hearts and minds of survivors –
And in all those touched by their stories
Such as those we were fortunate to hear –
As a symbol of the indomitable human spirit,
And a frontlet of our collective responsibility
To one another and all those forsaken,
Regardless of race, color, or creed.
We will never forget, never forgive,
And we will never let it happen again.
We are charged, now that we have seen,
Have born witness,
And we have our marching orders.
And, I, lost Jew, have found my way.
My howl has been heard,
And slowly, painfully, I begin to understand.
Baal Shem Tov, considered the founding father of Hasidism, was famed Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer. “Master of the Good Name”, who lived in Poland in the late 1700s.
Frontlet is a phylactery, or leather box containing verses from the Torah, worn on the forehead as a symbol of the faithful Jew’s binding to God.
Kaddish is an ancient Jewish prayer sequence regularly recited in the synagogue service for the dead.
Schadenfreude is a German word denoting joy in another’s suffering.
Shema is an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith, perhaps the most important of prayers.
Sinti or “Sinta” is the politically correct term for the Romani people of Central Europe (220,000 murdered by Nazis).
Unlebenswurdig: (German) “unworthy of life”; applied by the Nazis to the handicapped and terminally and mentally ill, who were quietly eliminated in hospitals, as a precursor to removing Jews from German society.