Yala Korwin--Polish

Yala Korwin
Author of one of the most remembered poems of the Holocaust, “The Little Boy with His Hands Up,” Yala Korwin, was born in Poland. She was interned in a concentration camp in Germany during the war. Following liberation she went to France as a refugee and stayed there for 10 years. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1965. Her book, To Tell the Story: Poems of the Holocaust, was published in 1987. She is a frequent contributor to journals including Midstream, Blue Unicorn, Orphic Lute and Piedmont Literary Review. Her work also appears in the Shoah project and a number of anthologies. Korwin is also a visual artist.


Such Innocent Words

Train   camp   shower
Gas   furnace   smoke
Bent and transfigured
Shoes   hair   soap
Mattress   lampshade
Twisted   defiled forever
Common words
Horror   loss


I Lost My Mother Tongue in the War

"Only in the mother tongue can one speak his own truth." -- Paul Celan

Did you say that my words sound queer?
I lost my mother tongue in the war.
I'm sorry I disturb your ear.

Some lose their limbs when they volunteer,
I lost my tongue, as I said before.
That's why my words to you sound queer.

My tongue atrophied, fate brought me here.
The new tongue's clumsy; wound's still sore.
I'm sorry I disturb your ear.

The graft succeeded. Cost me dear.
It helped, but it could not restore.
I know my words to you sound queer.

Therapy goes on, and I fear
My case is hopeless evermore.
I'm sorry I disturb your ear.

Deprived of all that I held dear,
I went through insult, hunger, gore.
I know my words to you sound queer,
But I've stopped caring about your ear.



The Little Boy with His Hands Up

Your open palms raised in the air
like two white doves
frame your meager face,
your face contorted with fear,
grown old with knowledge beyond your years.
Not yet ten. Eight? Seven?
Not yet compelled to mark
with a blue star on white badge
your Jewishness.

No need to brand the very young.
They will meekly follow their mothers.

You are standing apart
Against the flock of women and their brood
With blank, resigned stares.
All the torments of this harassed crowd
Are written on your face.
In your dark eyes—a vision of horror.
You have seen Death already
On the ghetto streets, haven't you?
Do you recognize it in the emblems
Of the SS-man facing you with his camera?

Like a lost lamb you are standing
Apart and forlorn beholding your own fate.

Where is your mother, little boy?
Is she the woman glancing over her shoulder
At the gunmen at the bunker's entrance?
Is it she who lovingly, though in haste,
Buttoned your coat, straightened your cap,
Pulled up your socks?
Is it her dreams of you, her dreams
Of a future Einstein, a Spinoza,
Another Heine or Halévy
They will murder soon?
Or are you orphaned already?
But even if you still have a mother,
She won't be allowed to comfort you
In her arms.

Her tired arms loaded with useless bundles
Must remain up in submission.

Alone you will march
Among other lonely wretches
Toward your martyrdom.

Your image will remain with us
And grow and grow
To immense proportions,
To haunt the callous world,
To accuse it, with ever stronger voice,
In the name of the million youngsters
Who lie, pitiful rag-dolls,
Their eyes forever closed.

Published in To Tell the Story - Poems Of the Holocaust, Holocaust Publications, NY