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.


© Russ Lewis February 26, 1995