On January 27, 1945, the Russian army came upon Auschwitz and its various camps and subcamps. To commemorate this date, Charles Fishman offers these remarks and his poem "Eastern Europe after the War."
After WWII was over and the camps were “liberated,” thousands of starved and brutalized survivors died; hundreds of thousands more were kept in holding pens that we’ve learned to refer to as DP camps because so many displaced inmates of the concentration and death camps had no place to go and were often too weak and sick to travel or to be permitted entry to the handful of countries that were inclined to offer them shelter.
From that darkest of times to our own unsettled and still broken one, many have asked where God was during the Holocaust. I’ve heard observant Jews and Christians say that God almost always answers our prayers, but that sometimes He says No. When I hear assertions like this one, I always want to ask why God’s answer was No! when so many believers prayed for their loved ones to live. As I see it, this is the key question that people of faith must ask their clergy and teachers. To this day, I’ve never received an answer that satisfied my mind or heart.
“Eastern Europe After the War” grew out of these thoughts and feelings.
Eastern Europe after the War
Wisps of memory ragged dips in the grass
A few years earlier, millions died in sub-zero
temperature Stripped to their underwear,
they were whipped beaten with fists
and rifle butts their infants ripped
from their arms Their prayers to God
changed nothing Shot in the neck,
they were kicked into ditch after ditch
Those still living clutched at prayer shawls
or thrice-blessed amulets but their words
their tears called down no power
Their deaths did not alter the sky, which continues
to shelter their murderers The earth
that churned for days afterward has yielded nothing
but fragments Years swept by, blurring
the landscape though, on occasion, something
in humanity twitched A list of the names
of the missing slipped from official fingers
and drifted into history In Eastern Europe,
not a stitch was mended The gash
in the abandoned universe could not be healed