Paul Hartal


Meeting in Belsen


For Anne Frank (1929-1945) .

One day in the autumn of 1944,
Along with your sister Margot,
You were deported from Auschwitz
to Bergen-Belsen.

When you arrived in the camp
the barracks were full,
so for several weeks
you lived in a crowded tent.

Unlike in Auschwitz,
there were no gas chambers in Belsen,
just shouting SS guards with dogs,
watch towers and barbed wire fence,
starvation and disease,
living skeletons of prisoners
tottering around like ghosts.

Typhus raged everywhere
And each hour brought new miseries.
You stared at the clouds in the sky
with your big eyes that grew bigger
in the camp on your sunken face.

Your head was shaven now
and you dressed in coarse rags.
But in your tiny fragile figure
the pure fire of your lofty soul
kept burning.

Then winter came with ice and snow,
frosty winds swept through the camp.
The barracks were unheated in Belsen.
The cold followed you everywhere
And the hunger pangs became unbearable.

You wished at least you could write
but it was hard to get paper or pencil.

Nevertheless, February arrived
with thrilling news.
Amid tears and smiles you found out
with boundless excitement
that an old school friend from Amsterdam
was also in Bergen-Belsen,
in another section of the camp.

Although you could have been shot for it,
you decided to take the risk and meet
with your friend.

So one shivery winter night
you walked on the frozen ground
of the barren heath of the camp
towards the barbed wire fence.

Scared and trembling in the dark,
She waited on the other side.
It was dangerous to make any sound.
However, suddenly and against all odds
she heard your voice whispering her name.

You could not embrace each other
because of the barbed wire barrier.
But you could talk and cry together
And the tears were flowing like rivers.

She brought you a crust of bread
and threw it over the barbed wire fence.
But a woman took it from you
And you fumed in dismayed frustration.

Yet two nights later
you met again your friend at the fence.
She tossed another package of food
And this time you caught it.

Hundreds of miles away in Poland
your mother was alone in Auschwitz.
She missed her family and refused to eat.
While freedom drew closer inch by inch
and the Russians approached the camp
she died of starvation
on January 6,1945.

Meanwhile in Bergen-Belsen
Margot became gravely ill.
She contracted typhus
and one day as she lost consciousness
she fell from her bunk and died.

At the same time you lay sick, too,
in your barrack bunk,
unaware of your sister’s death
or the fate of your parents.

The sun rose and set on the horizon
and the Allies advanced in every front.

On January 27,1945,
Three weeks after your mother died,
the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army
liberated your father in Auschwitz.

In March, American and British forces
crossed the Rhine River in Germany
and a month later, on April 15,1945,
the British 11th Armoured Division
overran Bergen-Belsen
and liberated the concentration camp.

But they came too late for you
Because your heart stopped beating by then.

I don’t know if irony
Can offer any pale solace
Yet compassionate arms
Held you when you
Became highly delirious.

Carrying the promise of spring
A bright breeze blew through the lager.
It was March 1945 now
and slipping slowly into a deep coma
you died peacefully
in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

You were fifteen years old.

However, only the flesh dies.
The soul survives.
Your memory lives forever.

Anne, you always believed
in the goodness of man.
Your constructive sensibility
transcends time and suffering.

Your towering courage soars
above war and destruction.
It rises in gleaming nobility
as a symbol of the human spirit
triumphing against evil.

Your immortal Diary inspires
millions of people around the globe.
Its poignant words glow and shine
illuminating the darkness of the night
with radiant splendour of light.

Anne, when I was born
You were already six years old.

In the summer of 1944,
while you and your family
were hiding in Amsterdam,
My mother, sister and I were deported
From Hungary to Strasshof,
a slave labour camp near Vienna.

My father was sent to Auschwitz.

Then on April 9,1945,
A fortnight before my ninth birthday,
the Red Army
Liberated us in Strasshof.

Now the winter of life
Turns my thinning hair grey
And with the rolling of seasons
I became much older than you.

I age.
You don’t.

(Montreal,2009)

Submitted: Monday, October 03, 2011
Edited: Tuesday, October 04, 2011

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