Poetry Corner

Song of the six million

Illustration by Suzy Varty
 It didn’t begin with uniform wearers,
 armband bearers; that’s just where it ended,
 with proud keyholders 
 to blandly wicked gas chambers.
 It started on the streets, in the shops
 and bars, with late night whispers
 and jokes about the Jews and who’s
 to blame for all the ills of the day.
 It was carried along like a smile,
 like a song by the middle-of-the-roaders,
 the go-with-the-flow-ers,
 the deaf, dumb and blind
 and the want-a-quiet-lifers.
 And no-one really noticed
 unless they were called Cohen,
 or Meyer or Levin or Stein
 but everybody knew
 about the over-sensitive Jews;
 touchy and greedy
 and have you ever noticed
 how they don’t look like us?
 And so like a snowball in winter
 it rolled merrily along,
 like a smile, like a song,
 this wonderful new truth
 that would make the nation strong,
 this great Fatherland
 with its old ways and new,
 a promised land for all –
 well, all but the Jew.
 It didn’t start with Panzers
 rampaging through Paris,
 nor ghettos, nor mass graves,
 children cowering in attics.
 No human skin lampshades
 in the fabled masterplan;
 but call people sub-human
 and yourself Superman,
 and it’s only going one way.
 Down a dead end street
 where grandmas and grandads,
 aunties and uncles, half-starved children
 and their mums and dads
 are lined up against a wall,
 the lucky ones spared
 a last train ride to a death camp
 nestled in the countryside.
 Their voices ghost out
 from bulletholed walls,
 from obscene trenches,
 from railtracks leading
 to Arbeit Macht Frei,
 a laughable legacy
 from a sick joke world.
 Six million strangled battlecries
 to beware ignorance and fear:
 We too thought
 it could never happen here. 

Harry Gallagher

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