Here Live the Dead

The Kowel Great Synagogue. Courtesy: Yad Vashem Photo Collection 1663/3
The Kowel Great Synagogue. Courtesy: Yad Vashem Photo Collection 1663/3

What follows is a found poem compiled from messages that the Jewish residents of Kowel, Ukraine scrawled on the walls of the Great Synagogue where they were held for days, without food or water, in the autumn of 1942. They were later herded into the forest and shot by the Nazis.

I discovered only last year that my great-great-aunt and her husband, daughters, son-in-law, and young grandsons were among them.

To create this poem, I worked with variations on translations from the original Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish that appear on the JewishGen website and in the Hebrew memorial book of Kowel, which documents the notes as copied by survivors who returned to Kowel after the war.

Locals have since painted over the writings on the walls and turned the building into a factory.

Here Live the Dead

To those who come after!
Here live the dead
Crying out from their graves
For justice

In another hour
The pure blood
Of our people’s youth
Will be spilled
Blood as clean
As the waters
Of the Sea of Galilee.

Earth, don’t cover our blood;
Heavens, take our vengeance!
Read these,
My last words

I write this
In the last moments
Before they take us out
To be killed
In the course of ten days
Thousands of Jews
Were led out of the synagogue
To slaughter,
Small and large
Young and old
But the most terrible thing is this:
They went without a word of protest,
Like calves.
Not a hand raised.
Not a fist clenched.
Only tears
Only cries to God

We are not dying as others do.
This blood
Should not be silent.
I fought,
But in vain
I was caught
Forgive me
I could not do
Anything else

I will rest in the common grave
Of the tortured;
The tragedy of many
Is easier to bear

I don’t know if any
Of the Jews
Will remain
Alive

If you are here
If any of my relatives survive
Perhaps
You
Will read this

Please

Say Kaddish

Pray for us

Remember us

Avenge us

The world
Is so beautiful

So beautiful

Have my final moments come?

Alas
We wanted
To live

About the Author
Daniella Levy is a mother of three, rabbi's wife, writer, translator, self-defense instructor, bridal counselor, black belt in karate, and certified medical clown — and she still can't decide what to be when she grows up. She is the author of By Light of Hidden Candles and Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism, and her short fiction, articles, and poetry — in English, Hebrew, and Spanish — have been published in numerous magazines, journals, anthologies, and media platforms. Born in the USA, she immigrated to Israel with her family as a child, and currently lives at the edge of the Judean Desert with her husband and three sons. Learn more about her at Daniella-Levy.com.
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