By Lisa Paulick
I was only a boy following orders, plodding along sure of nothing
Arbeit Macht Frei, the silver sky offered no comfort
And in the ground that was pulp we struggled
As the deceptive reality into which we were thrown
To say it was Hades is not a lie
The stench a mixture of German tobacco, human excrement and still burning corpses
Words lodged in my throat like a bullet
It was our General who assured them
Don’t be afraid, you’re safe now
Some of the children showed us their numbers
My legs were jelly, wobbly as a newborn colt’s
What help could I provide when men bring to light what they seek in the dark
And try to burn evidence of their actions freezing hatred into history
Liberation, you are free, I saw them as though underwater
I forced myself to concentrate on the details
The General wanted everything to the last ripped off swastika documented
Pyramids of corpses, shoes, clothing and hair
The ones that were left behind and now free
Some holding on to each other, some crawling to us
Sick, starving, frail and fractured
Branded with numbers and stripes
Drifting in and out of consciousness
They didn’t know what to do and neither
Did we, now that their identities were being returned to them
Some stayed there on the ground daring to hope
I tried to keep my eyes on the tank
Eventually they all went with us
One way or another
And for those final moments
Before we left Buchenwald
I asked myself
Who really wins any war?
Why do men play God?
But no one can kill
The dream of men
To be men again.
Even after it was shot at, stripped,
Damaged and burned,
Yet it still existed, here, in spite of itself.
This is one of four poems by Lisa Paulick featured in the gallery, honouring those that were lost, and survivors who had to make unimaginable choices. Lisa has read several books on the history of the Holocaust and the liberation of the camps and attended a survivors gathering four years ago in New York City.