Eturn To Washington Heights - Poem by Richard Kalfus
Return to WASHINGTON HEIGHTS
Is it self-indulgence to think
our personal life-stories
Have relevance for others?
Are we perhaps only healing ourselves
when we reach into the reservoir
of the past?
Can we speak to others about events
That have special meaning
Only for us?
So it is when I reach into my Holocaust past.,
marked forever by these events.
Nowhere is this more evident
than in Washington Heights,
Manhattan’s upper west side neighborhood
where the largest number of German Jewish Holocaust
survivors in America lived and tried to rebuild their lives.
while never forgetting the loved ones left.
Is it guilt that hovers over their lives
I have returned to Washington Heights
to the Washington Heights’ streets of 22 years ago.
I marvel again at the beauty of Fort Tryon Park
majestically overlooking the splendid Hudson River.
I hear German accented English and, as in my childhood,
am struck by the humor of New York Jews,
mixing Americanisms with German regionalism.
(The Mannheim German is so very different from that of the Berliner)
I see 80 year-old Mrs.Dingfelder raised in a Black Forest farm village,
sitting, in in a lawn chair,
in front of her 6 floor apartment building
quite lost. (memories of the trauma of the past or simply old age?)
I hear ghetto blasters marching in front of her.
There goes Mr. Marks entering the Kosher bakery.
I don’t need to go inside to know what he is ordering:
the family’s braided Chale for the Sabbath.
I continue to be touched by orthodox Mr. Simon
walking to Saturday services,
without money and with his apartment keys hanging from his belt.
On Friday services, I stand with others and chant the Kaddish.
I- for the grandparents who died in Gurs, a French Nazi Concentration Camp.
I- for the Communist uncle shot in the streets of Karlsruhe by Nazi thugs.
I for the Polish uncle, sister-in-law and their two young children
who died in a cattle car on the road to Auschwitz.
I finally enter the memory of our old apartment
with a view of the majestic George Washington Bridge,
a symbol of the freedom America accorded my parents and me as their son
who could live, without the threat of starvation, isolation and gas chambers.
I am home…and yet a home never quite released from memories of those Jewish immigrants, torn from their comfortable Jewish/German lives
faced with the challenge of rebuilding lives in New York’s Washington heights
and raising a son with only them as a connection to family lost.
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