For Yom Hashoah, I wrote this poem in honor of my grandpa’s mother who was murdered in the gas chambers. I tried to imagine who she was…
The Strength of an Aching Mother
She tried to scream but the air from her lungs was stolen by their tormenting laughter.
Her heart somehow still beat, even though her daughter lay dead in her arms.
Her baby girl, her first born, her best friend who was taken ruthlessly from her protective arms.
Hunger and hatred replaced all that she worked so hard to build – A family and a life. They threw her daughter’s body into the ghetto’s street as she silently recited the Kaddish, even if God had become the devil.
She pulled her youngest son in close and squeezed him before he disappeared from the ghetto walls. She tried to scream and cry, but only a whisper left her lips.
Her lungs couldn’t bear the weight of it all. She stood there, breathless. She told herself to memorize his face, as if a mother could forget her own child.
If she couldn’t save her daughter, her parents or her husband, she could at least save him. He’s young, strong and healthy. Maybe he will find another world. A world where he could be alive – that was all she wanted.
The ghetto was emptied, body by body, train by train. She was told to go to the left. Her oldest son was told to go to the right. It’s a mother’s instinct to protect her children, but there was no room for motherhood as babies were being thrown against walls.
Hours later, she arrived to the showers of Treblinka. Soap made of human flesh filled the space. Gas had filled the lungs that failed her. A whispered scream, then silence.
Her home used to be filled with chicken soup, art and politics. She used to rock her children to sleep before they grew. She held her daughter in her arms during her first heartbreak. She taught her sons how to think for themselves. She made love to her husband and slept on his chest. She was the backbone, but her bones were not enough to save them from this.
Her soul watched her oldest son get tortured in Auschwitz. She watched her youngest son hide his identity.
She watched both of them survive on opposite ends of the world, despite the darkness and death that surrounded them. She watched her sons create new lives and families and fall in love.
She watched them search for each other for decades, never forgetting the other, but never finding one another. She watched them die and waited to hold them.
They watched their granddaughter search for the family that was taken away. They watched their family reunite 77 years later, giving voice, tears and screams to the airless lungs and the endless whispers.
Family is a bond that can’t be broken by gas chambers, bullets, starvation or hatred. This family lives in honor of their memory. Chicken soup fills our homes as does laughter, love, tears and whispers.