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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Requiem, written by Paul B. Janeczko. Candlewick, Random House. 2011. $19.00 ages 14 and up

"I am Miklos.
The younger boys in L410
call me Professor.
Because I know many words?
Because of my large glasses?
Because I like to write
in a small notebook
that I conceal from the guards
in my shoe?

I am fragile
with fear."

In his afterword Paul Janeczko says:

"What set Terezin a apart from Nazi death camps was the nature of many of its inmates. Terezin became 'home' for many of the Jewish intellectuals and artists of Prague. As a result, it became a prison in which the arts were tolerated, then encouraged as a Nazi propaganda tool."

That was not the only propaganda. Here is part of a poem from SS Lieutenant Theodor Lang, describing what happened when the King of Denmark insisted that the Red Cross inspect Terezin to be sure that the Jews were being treated well:

"The inspectors
were in our town for a short time,
only long enough to see
what we wanted them to see.
No more.
They saw enough
to know that we were treating the Jews
in a civilized and humane manner.
We waited a few months
to resume the transports.
The town was getting crowded
and the ovens of Auschwitz waited."

Chilling? Yes it is! Paul Janeczko has given voice to many in this powerful book of thirty poems about the Terezin ghetto. It is, as you would expect, a grim exploration. For these poems that represent many whose history includes this temporary station on the journey to the gas chambers, he has used selected resources, websites and unforgettable art created by Terezin inmates found after the war ended. The poems come from captive and captor, the voice of the townspeople and raw observations:

"Magnolia blossoms riot
over the fence
of the home of the Kommandant.
What could they want
on this side?"

It is impossible to read this book without being overwhelmed by the emotions it stirs, and heartbroken for the plight of so many caught up in the horror of the Holocaust.  Before being liberated in the spring of 1945, 140,000 men, women and children who passed through the gates of Terezin were killed. Of the title chosen for his indelible collection of voices, Paul Janeczko says:

"I chose Requiem as the title of this collection because I saw many of the poems in it as solemn songs to the memory of the people who died within the walls of Theresienstadt."

"Blue sky
barbed wire.

I wish I were

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