I am neither German nor Jew and I was a child
when the boxcars carried their cargos of horror over Europe’s clean land,
until the metal brakes shrieked and the wheels slowed
and stopped at last under the watchtowers hovering over those terrible yards
littered with dirty snow.
You who were granted a swift death — who were
chosen indifferently by men bantering with each other as they singled you out —
you were the ones who were blest, for the ones who were spared
suffered agony beyond passion and saw the smoke of the chimneys
blacken whatever was left of life.
But those others — those men who beheld your agony with eyes
that reflected only the sweat of the day’s work
and annoyance at supper delayed —
for them there will be no turning away.
For them, the stench of the ovens will hover over life and death
and defile their children beyond memory;
for the ordinariness of such men reaches over all our lives, even to me,
though I was a child, and innocent
when Auschwitz smoldered at the end of that railroad.