Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Leon Zdzislaw Stroinski 1921- 1944 'Warsaw'

                                     Leon Stroinski- Poet of the Warsaw Uprising 


                                                      Image taken from www.ravelo.pl

Leon Zdislaw Stroinski was born in Warsaw in 1921, and died  fighting in the Warsaw Uprising on 16th August 1944. A collection of his prose poetry was destroyed in the fighting. In 1963 a collection titled 'Okno' ( 'Window') was published, containing 9 poems, 11 prose poems, a short story, and two polemical pieces' , and republished in 1982.
This post, more than anything, is an appeal for further information about his work. Hugh Haughton in his 'Second World War Poems', ( Faber & Faber 2004) , featured the prose poem 'Warsaw' , translated by the poet  Adam Czerniawski , who was born in Poland in 1934,


" During the building of the barricades, the Vistula, brimming with reflections of forests, birds and white roads line with poplars, rose at first like a mist, then like a stiff cover of a book.

          In its shade at dawn caretakers come out with huge frayed brooms to sweep up the the tears which have collected during the night and lie thickly in the streets.

            Already. the market women, extended to the edge of sunlight, recommend potatoes grown on graves.

         And on the horizon of the street, across the roar of grenades lying in the curves of cobblestones,the soul of the city has been moving for months.

      The reflection of her face, too difficult to comprehend, has left a trace on the twisted faces of ruins as on the handkerchief of St Veronica.

       Those who will cone in the far, far future wanting to decipher them, drawing their cold-blue hands across features taut like strings, and who with careless fingers will poke the moan of those dried up in crevices-
       will burst in prayer or blasphemy.

       Here my country has come together from decimated forests and villages turned into a dog's howl. It persists in the whisper of mechanised armour.

      We had to wait through so much blood and pathos in order to build from the silence of ruined monuments such a vault over a city of jazz and death.

      Now lemurs from Gothic temples are thick on roofs of trams and terrify insurance officials on their way home.

    The  dead wander beneath the pavements and pound on bucklers which give a hollow sound, while at evening in double rows of whispers they walk arm in arm with the living, and you can tell them part only by skilfully folded wings, which nevertheless stick out on their backs like humps.

    But in daytime huge stone capstans hum, and only around noon, when folk sit down to lunch and it's a bit quieter, can you hear more distinctly the heavy rhythmical tread of God's steel-shod boots. "

Translated by Adam Czerniawski, 'The Burning Forest -Modern Polish Poetry', 1988.
I have not  been able to trace the copyright holder of this poem- if anyone owns the right, please get in contact and would be delighted to give them all due credit. 

           Another poet who died during the 1944 Uprising was Krzystof Kamil Baczynski ( born 1921) who was killed fighting the Germans on 4th August 1944. Have not been able to find anything by him in English but Culture.Pl website has a fascinating page about his life, but no extracts from his poetry.
Anna Swir was a military nurse during the Uprising, and came within an hour of being executed but was spared, and lived until 1984. The Chicago based Poetry Foundation has a useful biographical page on her, and links to some of her poems.

A longer version of this post is now to be seen at worldwarpoetry.com

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Miklos Radnoti (1909 -1944)

    Miklos Radnoti -'Flame must rise above death and autumn'   

                                                      Miklos Radnoti in 1930, courtesy of Wikpedia.

                                                       Peace, Horror

                                         When I stepped out through the gate,it was just ten o'clock
                                         A baker stepped by on gleaming wheels, a song on his lips.
                                         A plane droning high overhead and the sun up, it was ten,
                                         And my dead sister came into my mind and with that they were all
                                         Flying above me-those whom I love and who are not alive-
                                         Darkly across the sky, a host of the silent dead.....
                                         Then a jolt, and a shadow crumpled against the wall.
                                         Silence. The morning came to a halt on the stroke of ten;
                                         Hovering over the street- and a certain horror.   (1938)


                                Miklos Radnoti was born into a Hungarian Jewish family in 1909 .Radnoti's first collection of poetry 'Pagan Invocation' , was published in 1930. Two others followed in 1931, and 1933. In 1934 Radnoti moved to Budapest and started writing for a literary magazine titled Nyugat . Cultural life in Hungry began to reflect contemporary cultural tensions, Radnoti was firmly aligned with the more Left-leaning writers and artists of the day whilst German economic domination and political influence was growing.  Radnoti still had collections of poetry published and married his school sweetheart Fanni Gyarmati, and a lot of his poetry was inspired by her.

A fair amount of his poetry featured eerie premonition of what calamity was going to befall Hungary. Radnoti avidly followed the Republican cause in Spain. In 1936 he brought out a collection titled ' Keep Walking, you the Death Condemned' . The poem of the same name was also a strange premonition of Radnoti's own fate
                                       "Keep walking, you, the death-condemned'
                                         In front, the dark trees ranged in line
                                         Topple towards you; bushes hide
                                         A cat and the chill wind. The road
                                        Turns white with fear, arching its spine.
                                        Shrivel away now, autumn leaves!
                                        Shrivel, oh terrifying world!
                                        Cold hissing from the sky is harsh,
                                        And on stiff, rusty blades of grass
                                        The shadows of wild ducks are hurled ....."

A series of repressive measures were passed in Hungary from 1930- 1941, instigated by Admiral Horthy's regime.  Types of employment were banned to Radnoti as a Jew , but worst was the fact that Jews were forced to register to join a forced labour system. Hungary became more aligned with the Axis, even declaring war on the Soviet Union in 1941, and sending troops to take part in the invasion.  Radnoti was called up for three months in 1940 for labour service, and for ten months in 1942-1943 Shortly after this term, Radnoti converted to the Roman Catholic faith. In 1944 he was deported to Yugoslavia to serve with other Jews in  building  roads for the German occupiers. By then Germany had assumed control of Hungary.

In September 1944, the Germans had to evacuate the Balkans following the advance of the Red Army and the growing confidence of Tito's partisans. The Hungarian Jewish labourers,who were partly guarded by Hungarian soldiers,  were made to join a forced march back into Hungary. Cold weather, near starvation, damaged health, and exhaustion led to many casualties. Around the 8th November 1944 , near the town of Gyor, Radnoti was amongst 21 sick and exhausted  Jewish labourers who were separated from the main column. The following day, near the town of Abda, the Jews were made to dig a ditch, then shot one by one.

After the War, the bodies were exhumed. It was discovered that Radnoti had hidden a notebook of his poetry in his coat. In 1948, a posthumous collection of poetry was published.

Ultimately Radnoti's work was inspired by Jewish culture, with a growing Christian influence, Anti-Fascism, reverence for nature, an instinctive humanitarian viewpoint, with a haunting fatalism. A feeling that however hopeless his predicament must have seen as a Jew with liberal-Left views,  trapped in central Europe dominated by the Axis, Radnoti was never going to  abandon his idealism.

However harrowing Radnoti's war poetry could be, thought that it was fitting to end with some lines that showed that Radnoti was poet who wrote about love. And this must not be forgotten. Here are  the final three verses of 'Autumn Begins Restlessly'... written in August- September 1941.

                                                    " The landscape falls asleep
                                                     Death lovely in his white glide
                                                     Settle on the countryside.
                                                     The sky cradles the garden.
                                                     Look; in your hair's and autumn leaf that's golden,
                                                     Above you, branches weep.

                                                    Ah but your flame must rise above death and autumn
                                                    And raise me love, love, along with you.
                                                    let the wise thing be to love me today-
                                                    Be wise and kiss me, hungry for dreams too.

                                                   Joyfully love me, do not leave me, fall
                                                   With me into the dark sky sleep creates.
                                                   Let's sleep. Out there the thrush is well asleep.
                                                   The walnut, falling on fallen leave piled deep,
                                                   makes no harsh sound. Reason disintegrates."



Some English translations of Radnoti

Dame Judi Dench  reciting Miklos Radnoti poem  from (Exiled Hungarian ) director Robert Vas'  film 'My Homeland' from 'Youtube'.

An expanded version of this article appears on the website  Worldwarpoetry.com

'Foamy Sky- The Major Poems of Miklos Radnoti' Selected by Zsusanna Ozsvatha and Fredrick Turner, , Princeton University Press, 1992 is highly recommended. A superb collection of Radnoti's work from 1929- 1944 with a useful biography.

'Forced March-Selected Poems' by Miklos Radnoti, Translated from the Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and George Gomori. , Enitharmon Press , in association with the European Jewish Society, 2003. Also recommended...shorter collection than 1992's 'Foamy Sky' and a great introduction to Radnoti's life and work.

Fanni Gyamati died on 15th September 2014.  The Daily Telegraph Obituary is well worth a read.

Have updated website     Worldwarpoetry.com   with article about the poetry of Sidney Keyes  (1922- 1943)    

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Lidice poem - Cecil Day Lewis

                                                     Lidice  part one 

                                           Memorial to the children of Lidice in the park in front of the museum
                                           Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

                                        Not a grave of the murdered for freedom 
                                       but grows seed for freedom- Walt Whitman         

                                    " Cry to us ,murdered village while you grieve
                                     Ashes raw on history makes us understand
                                    What freedom asks of us . Strengthen our hands
                                    Against the arrogant dogmas that deprave
                                    And have no proof but death as their command

                                   Must the innocent blood for ever to remedy
                                   These fantastic fits that tear mankind apart?
                                   The pangs we felt from you atrocious hurt
                                   Promise a time when even the killer shall see
                                   His sword is aimed at his own naked heart."
                                  Cecil Day Lewis-  From his  collection, 'Word All Over'  1943.

C. (Cecil)  Day Lewis ( 1904-1972) was one of the leading poets of the 'Auden' generation of the 1930's. Born in Ireland, Lewis studied at Oxford University. Served in the Home Guard, and worked in the Ministry of Information during World War 2. Later to become a professor of poetry at Oxford from 1951-1956, and a writer of detective stories. C. Day-Lewis was also Poet Laureate from 1968-1972.

   A small collection of his work was published in 1941 under the title 'Where are the War Poets'? This was expanded for a revised volume of his poetry as 'Word All Over' and published in 1943.

His work has not really remained in favour compared with some of his associates such as W H Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Sir Stephen Spender.  I can't find any collection of his work that was published after 1982. Few of Day-Lewis' poems have made it into World War 2 poetry anthologies. His most famous poem is probably 'Stand To', about his experiences in the Home Guard.

In December 1941, two Czech agents Jan Kubis and Joseph Gabiek, who were serving with Polish forces in Britain, were parachuted into Czechoslovakia. Their mission was to assassinate Heydrich, the SS commander of  Bohemia and Moravia. The Allies including the Czech government in exile- were aware of the risk of reprisals but decided that Heydrich was simply too dangerous to be allowed to live. He was deemed to be particularly brutal even by Nazi standards, and one theory is that he was due to be dispatched to France, where he could have caused major damage to the Resistance there.  On 27th May 1942,  , the agents,who had managed to remain in hiding , attacked as Heydrich was being driven down a quiet street in Prague, following his usual routine from his villa to Prague castle, in an open top car.

The agents struck with a sten gun- that jammed-  and  hurled an anti tank grenade at the car, Heydrich was wounded  and initially survived, but  died in hospital on 4th June 1942 . Particles from the vehicle and various other fragments had contaminated his wounds.

Round up of alleged Czech resistance fighter began. Dozens died under SS interrogation, hundreds of people already in prison , both Jewish and Czech were executed. A particular example was made of Lidice , a village some twenty kilometres from Prague.

On 10th June 1942, the village was surrounded. Some accounts state that the SS took control, other that Czech police conducted the operation . All the women and children were taken to Kladno, where they were separated. 184 women were taken to Ravensbruk concentration camp, the  80 children to Lodz. Some of the children were taken to live with German families and to become 'Germanified', the rest were gassed at Chelmno Upon Nerr in Poland.  173 men -including youths as young as 16 were executed at the village.. The settlement was burnt, and its ruins bulldozed.  The Germans brazenly announced the massacre to the world via a radio broadcast on 10th June 1942- even filmed the atrocity - and this was to become document 379 at the Nuremberg trial in 1945.

The Czech government in exile in London denounced the atrocity, along with Winston Churchill. A 'Lidice Shall Live' movement was launched in September 1942 in Stoke Upon Trent led by local MP Barnett Stross, with a great deal of support from Staffordshire miners.

The British authorities staged a film titled 'The Silent Village' (1943)  , seeking the help of the South Wales Miners Federation, and the'  people of the Swansea and Dulais valleys' . Parallels were drawn due to the fact that Lidice was partly a mining community.  The village of Cwmgiedd was chosen for a filmed re-enactment.

The Frtiz Lang/Bertold Brecht movie, 'Hangmen Also Died from 1943, has been the first in a whole series of films about the assassination of Heydrich. Heydrich was the most senior Nazi to have been assassinated. The question of whether killing one mass murderer , knowing that the short term consequence would be savage reprisal, but saving more lives in the longer term, is one of the toughest moral dilemmas going.

Cecil Day Lewis poem is short, not particular complex or obscure. And virtually forgotten. The Lidice massacre is now  largely remembered by films, starting as mentioned in 1943, ranging through to the Czech language film 'Atentat' ( 'Assassionation') from 1964, 'Operation Daybreak' (1975), 'Operation Anthropoid ' ( 2016), 'HHhH' (2017). However in the 1940's , poetry were written about the Lidice atrocity ......and the next blog post will look at other poetry.

To be continued ....................................


Radio Prague page on the 'Literary legacy of Lidice'     Very useful page

Lidice memorial    website maintained by the Cultural Ministry of the Czech Republic


Lidice -A Light Across the Sea    ( Excellent documentary about the 'Licide Shall Live' campaign from                                                       Staffordshire)

The Silent Village                         ( 1943 film from Britain )

I wish to thank all fellow members of the World War II Forums who posted on the recent 'Lidice' discussion thread.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Holocaust Diary of Renia Spiegel

                  'Think Tomorrow We Might Not Be' -Renia Spiegel


                                                Soviet soldiers during the 1939 invasion of Poland
                                                courtesy, Wikimedia Commons

                              Think tomorrow we might not be 
                              A cold,steel knife 
                              Will slide between us, you see 
                              But today there is still time for life 
                              Tomorrow the sun might be eclipsed 
                              Bullets might crack and rip 
                              And howl, pavements awash
                              With blood, with dirty, stinky slag,pigwash
                              Today you are alive 
                              There is still time to survive
                              Let's blend our blood
                              When the song still moves ahead
                              The song of the wild and furious flood
                              Brought by the living dead 
                              my every muscle trembles 
                             My body for your closeness fumbles    
                             It's supposed to be a throttling game, this is 
                            Not enough eternity for all the kisses

Translated from Polish by Anna Hide and Marta Dzuirosz, taken from Renia Spiegel's diary: Originally published in   'Smithsonian' magazine feature The Long-Lost Holocaust Diary of Renia Spiegel


The above lines are from a diary that began on 31st January 1939, and written by a seventeen year old Jewish Polish girl by the name of Renia Spiegel on 7th June 1942 .

When the Germans invaded Poland on 1st September 1939, Renia was living with her grandparents at Przemzyl , 150 miles east from Krakow. Her mother was living in Warsaw, the whereabouts of the father was not know. Her younger sister Ariana was visiting Przemzyl. As the Germans attacked , the Russians moved into occupy the eastern part of Poland, including Premzyl. In June 1941, the rest of Poland fell to the Germans. In June 1942, Renia became romantically involved with a Jewish boy called Zygmunt Schwarzer, who had connections with the resistance. In July 1942, the ghetto at Premzyl was established, and deportations to the death camps were soon to follow. Zygmunt managed to get Renia and Ariana out of the ghetto. Ariana was placed with a sympathetic Christian friend, and Renia went into hiding with Zygmunt's parents.

Renia and Zygmunt's mother and father were discovered and shot by the Germans on 30th July 1942. Zygmunt appeared at the house shortly afterwards, to find that both his parents and his girlfriend were dead. He found Renia's diary and wrote the words " Three shots ! Three lives lost! All I can hear are shots! shots," as a last entry.

Meanwhile Renia's mother had taken a new identity in Warsaw and converted to the Roman Catholic faitth. After the war she left Poland with Ariana to live in New York. Zygmunt survived incarceration in both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, to later study medicine. He later travelled to New York and passed on Renia's diary ( of around 700 pages) to Renia's mother in the 1950's. Eventually in 2012, Ariana's daughter arranged for a Polish publication.

Some extracts from the diary have already appeared from the 'Smithsonian' magazine. Fascinating reading. Renia wrote about the deportations of Jews from Russian occupied Poland to Siberia before the German invasion.Also the Soviet demand to abolish single sex education in January 1940, for being 'bourgeois' led to boys being admitted to Renia's school. Once the German occupation began,Renia wrote about the de-humanising experience of being Jewish and forced to wear a Star of David armband. But other aspects of a teenage girl's life appear such as romance, teenage cattiness towards schoolmates, torment when Renia thinks that Zygmunt has taken another girl to a party instead of her. Sexual desire also emerges as a theme in the diary.

At times, in researching World War 2 poetry, just find a poem too difficult to remove from the context of its creation. Knowing that these lines were written by a Jewish girl, who was to be murdered just after her eighteenth birthday, it somehow seems irrelevant if a middle aged slob like myself from the 21st century- who has seen a lot of the good things in life- 'likes' or 'dislikes' what Renia wrote. Or starts to think I am being clever by over-analysing the poem, hoping to discover some hidden subtext that nobody else can spot. So I am letting the lines stand as they are.

The extracts from the diary published already on line show that Renia wrote other poems. An English translation will appear in the Summer of 2019. A film about Renia Spiegel -'Broken Dreams'- should be completed in May 2019.


As well as The Long Lost Diary of Renia Spiegel article cited above from 'Smithsonian' magazine, the same publication has a biographical article about Renia's life.

'Why Renia Spiegel is called the Polish Anne Frank' from 'Forward' magazine

There is now the Renia Spiegel Foundation

Wish to acknowledge the help of film director Tomasz Magierski with this article.


There is a companion blog to this one A Burnt Ship which is about war poetry and prose with a connection to the Stuart era.

There is also the website Worldwarpoetry.com

Sunday, 24 March 2019

J F Hendry

        J. F. Hendry   London Before Invasion: 1940


                                           Picture Graham Sutherland 'Wrecked Public House ' 
                                           Thank you to Tate Images for its use-reference N5735

                                       London Before Invasion

                                       " Walls and buildings stand here still, like shells.
                                       Hold them to the ear. There are no echoes even
                                       Of the seas that once were. That tide is out
                                       Beyond the valleys and hills.

                                      Days dawn and die while the city assumes a distance of stars.
                                      It is the absence of the heart
                                      In the ebbing seas of heaven,
                                     An ebbing beyond laughter and too tense for tears.

                                     Now, imagination floats, a weed, on water's vacancy.
                                     Fates of women, lit with conscience of stone features.
                                     Flowers have a girl's irrelevance, and mind is no

                                    Flood-tides returning may bring with them blood and fire,
                                    Blenching with wet panic spirit that must be rock
                                    May being a future tossed and torn, as slippery as wrack,
                                    All time adrift in torrents of blind war. "

Glasgow born  J.F. (James Findlay) Hendry ( 1912- 1986),  served in the Royal Artillery and Amy Intelligence. Most known in World War 2 poetry circles for his involvement in the 'New Apocalypse' movement' , following the anthology of the same name that Hendry edited with Henry Treece, that was published in 1939. Two more such  anthologies 'The White Horseman' ( 1941) and ' Crown and Sickle'( 1944) were published. G.S Fraser, Norman McCaig, Vernon Watkins, were briefly associated them.

 Opposed to the 1930's  'Auden Generation' , the ' New Apocalyptics' were short lived as a movement and its harder to find another  group of poets who have attracted such unkind comments since the Georgians of the early 20th century. Andrew Sinclair sniped at Hendry and Treece for being 'leaders without a movement' , and denounced the poetry included in 'The White Horseman'  for  being " obscure, self conscious and adolescent'. Vernon Scannell accused them of promoting a " kind of zany automatic writing, most of which read like a drunken parody of Dylan Thomas" . George Orwell scoffed at them.

The New Apocalyptics  were uninterested  in  the use of social realism within poetry.  Mythological images prevailed in their work,  with inspirations taken from nature, pre-industrial ages, the theories of Freud, 1930's surrealism,  and Anarchism of the individualist variety. The movement itself  was short lived, though their influence lasted for another decade with the growth of the Romanticism in the 1940's.  By the 1950's, with the rise of The Movement poets and the Angry Young Men ( in both the theatre and in novels) , the work of the New Apocalypse seemed escapist and archaic. Henry Treece became better known in post war years for writing historical novels, particularly for young readers, and some quite delightful poetry such as 'The Magic Wood'.

J.F. Hendry had two poetry collections  published during World War 2, 'The Bombed Happiness'  (1942)  'The Orchestral Mountain' , neither attracted much attention.  But Keidrich Rhys included several of J.F.Hendry's poems in his seminal anthologies.  'Poems from the Forces' (1941)   and 'More Poems from the Forces' (1943)   But J.F. Hendry carried on writing. J.F. Hendry's post war work included 'Fernie Brae' ( 1947),  and  'Life of Rilke' (1982).

            Recently found a collection of poetry titled ' Poems of Today -Fourth Series' published in 1957, and looking at the 'best'  poetry from 1938-1957. This volume included just one J.F.Hendry poem 'The Churchillian Ode'.  Reminds one initially  of 17th century odes to Cromwell written by Andrew Marvell and John Dryden until they both embraced the Restoration . Or John Milton's sonnets dedicated to  Sir Henry Vane the Younger and General Fairfax . Quoting from the first few lines.

                              A Churchillian Ode

                              "The years grew tares for we did not tend them
                              Time was eaten by moths in an age of gold
                              And the sun eclipsed in a cloud of ignorance.
                              The hours sprang holes as we stared, until now, the
                              We clasp in our hands a sheaf of bluebells in place
                              Of the rifle, and all our moment of laughter are
                              Amid flaming towns, their echoes chill as the shade of
                              soul's vengeance.............."

There is a sort of awkward dreaminess with a bit of surrealism thrown in. 'London Before Invasion 1940' was written in 1940, published in his collection 'The Bombed Happiness' . This title was challenged by Andrew Sinclair as having implied "that there might be a liberation and joy in destruction."  This issue appears within 'London Before Invasion 1940 " - that somehow the course of history was entering a phase where human emotion simply didn't matter:   "An ebbing beyond laughter and too tense for tears"- whilst there is a terrible wait for the next tide to come rushing in again, bringing new horrors.

In wider contact, I doubt  that a New Apocalyptic such as J F Hendry was justifying destruction or finding something aesthetically pleasing about an air raid. He was a poet caught up in war,  trying to find a space for the individual, in a world where impersonal historical forces were ranging.


Quotes by Andrew Sinclair were taken from ' War Like A Wasp -The Lost Decade of the Forties'
  ( 1989)

Quote by Vernon Scannell taken from 'Not Without Glory Poets of the Second World War' (1976)

Please take a look at the companion blog to this one A Burnt Ship , dealing with poetry & prose relating to 17th century warfare.

More articles about War Poetry can be found at worldwarpoetry.com

If anyone is on MeWe, have started  the MeWe War Poetry Group : Feel free to join.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Wladyslaw Szlengel - Poet of the Warsaw Ghetto

                      Poem: A Small  Station called Treblinka 

Warsaw Ghetto: Zelaznej Bramy (Iron Gate) Square , ghetto wall and Lubomirski palace

Walyslaw Szlengel was born in Warsaw, between 1911-1914, the exact date is disputed. He is most known for using poetry to chronicle the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Writing poetry at an early age, Szlengel was already published in literary journals in 1930. It was not long before he was also writing songs and directing cabaret performances, solely in Polish. Some sources maintain that his father, who died in 1934, was a theatre director. Szlengel spent a few months towards the end of 1939 until the early part of 1940 in the town of Bialystock, which was in the Soviet occupied part of Poland but returned to Walicow Street, Warsaw, which  in November 1940 was incorporated into the notorious Warsaw Ghetto.

The Warsaw Ghetto was the area where all Jews of the City were confined behind barbed wire fences and high walls as from November 1940. Jews from other parts of Poland and from Germany, along with Roma people were moved there with as many as 400,000 people being held there . Overcrowded accommodation, wretched conditions, with only an entitlement to starvation rations, as many as ten per cent of the population perished. Random killings by the Germans, public executions of those who fell foul of regulations, the sight of  inhabitants expiring from illness or starvation,  increased the terror and sense of despair.  On 22nd July 1942,  deportations by train began-supposedly on the grounds of 'resettlement; in the east - but the actual destination was the death camp at Treblinka, around fifty miles north-east of Warsaw. As many as 6,000 people could be moved out in a day.

 Szlegnel carried on writing, and performing, managing to secure  regular employment at the  coffeehouse Cafe Sztuka in Lesno Street 2 .  Vladyzslaw Szpilman accompanied various artists on piano including the popular singer Wiera Gran.  Cafe Sztuka is portrayed in Ronan Polanski's 2002 film about Szpillman- 'The Pianist' . The weekly Cabaret night 'Life Journal' was organised by Szelngel and where possible satire was encouraged at the expense of the authorities. It seems that Szlengel was using both Polish and Yiddish by this point. However in Polanski's film, the subversive nature of the cabaret at Cafe Sztuka is missed, and one gets an impression of Jews who had money enjoying themselves in the Cafe, being supposedly  oblivious to the suffering of the wider community. Cafe Sztuka was closed, most likely between 19th-22nd of July 1942.

 Wladyslaw Szlengel and his wife were forced to work in a brush factory, but carried on organising literary evenings, and presenting further poetry   The Ghetto population was gradually reducing due to deportation though the Nazis were prepared to leave 'productive' Jews working. In October 1942 Jewish Resistance groups merged together to form the organisation ZOB. Word reached them that the trains were in fact going to Treblinka , a death camp.

 Having the Warsaw Ghetto largely full of younger and physically stronger people, who had no illusions of the dangers they were in, stimulated a number of skirmishes with Germans and those collaborating with them as from January 1943. When the Germans arrived to organise a final mass deportation resistance culminated in the magnificent  Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that begun on 19th April 1943 and lasted until 10th May 1943. Wladyslaw Szlengel and his wife were shot by Germans when the house they were hiding in was stormed on 8th May 1943.

Though the Uprising was facing impossible odds, it is generally regarded as both an act of great  heroism and defiance but also for inspiring the 1944 Warsaw Rising, showing that the Germans were by no means invincible and could be confronted.

I am pleased to be able to reproduce the  Waldysaw Szlengel  poem 'A Small Station Called Treblinka', reproduced here by kind permission of Halina Birenbaum     from the website http://www.zchor.org which features a selection of his work in different languages on the site  Szlengel webpage 

What makes the poem quite haunting is that it is written in the present tense, and though the station itself seems unremarkable, one can never purchase a return ticket. It is not known how widely circulated the poem was, but certainly resistance workers with in the Ghetto were issuing proclamations desperately trying to warn the remaining populace of the dangers they were in.

                                                 Władysław Szlengel
                                                'A Small Station Called Treblinka'

                                               On the line between Tluszcz and Warsaw
                                               From the railway station Warsaw - East
                                               You get out of the station
                                               and travel straight…
                                              The journey lasts
                                              sometimes 5 hours and 45 minutes more
                                              and sometimes the same journey lasts
                                              a whole life until your death …
                                              And the station is very small
                                              three fir trees grow there
                                              and a regular signboard saying
                                              here is the small station of Treblinka...
                                              here is the small station of Treblinka...
                                              And not even a cashier
                                              gone is the cargo man
                                             and for a million zloty
                                             you will not get a return ticket
                                             And nobody waits for you in the station
                                             and nobody waves a handkerchief towards you
                                             only silence hung there in the air
                                             to welcome you in the blind wilderness.
                                            And silent are the three fir trees
                                            and silent is the black board
                                            because here is the small station of Treblinka...
                                            here is the small station of Treblinka...
                                            And only a commercial board
                                            stands still:
                                           "Cook only by gas"

* Translated from Polish to Hebrew by Halina Birenbaum and from Hebrew to English by AdaHoltzman. Yehuda Poliker, son of an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor from Thessalonika, wrote music to the poem and it is featured  on his album: "Ashes and Dust"

On 2nd August 1943, a rebellion broke out at Treblinka itself, when a number of prisoners raided the armoury and organised a mass breakout. The Germans began to start dismantling Treblinka in the Autumn of 1943, and it had virtually fallen into disuse by the time the Red Army took the district in July 1944. Another reason to read the poem to ensure that the horror of  Treblinka is remembered, along with Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the mass breakout at Treblinka itself.


 Wladyslaw Slegel- The Ghetto Poet

Culture.PL -Polish Cultural website

The Manhatten Review

Background information on the Warsaw Ghetto by one of the Uprising's leading participants, Marek Edelman can be found here

General News 

Companion blogs

Great War at Sea Poetry Blog

A Burnt Ship    Stuart era War and Literature

MeWe War Poetry Group   New War Poetry discussion group being set up by Michael Bully

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Sean Jennett Missing Poet from Faber &Faber

                                                Sean Jennett

                                        'Shelter Experiments' John Piper 1943 
                                        IWM ART LD 3859  in public domain courtesy of the IWM/
                                       Wikipedia Commons 

     I was recently reminded of the  'Earth Voices Whispering- An anthology of Irish War Poetry 1914-1945' edited by Gerald Dawes, published in 2008. It was intriguing to find poems by Sean Jennett included, who doesn't seem to have been included in any anthologies since 'Poetry of the Forties-introduced and edited by Robin Skelton' (1968) .

Also managed to locate Jennett's collection  'Always Adam' from 1943, from the National Poetry Library, at the Southbank Centre, which contains 51 poems, written from 1935 onward.

 Sean Jennett, who worked for Faber & Faber' as a typographer during World war 2, who has been added to the ranks of 1940's 'neglected' poets. His Wikipedia entry consists of three sentences , maintaining  that he was born in 1912- and died in 1981, wrote 'The 'Making of Books ' in 1951 and went on to write travel books. The British Library online catalogue confirms this, with 'The Making of Boooks' seeing several editions.


                            We talked of war with light and easy lips,
                            jesting upon our action, this or that,
                            if it came to the last, and while we chattered
                            we drank our coffee in delicious sips
                            and watched the soft, contented cafe cat.

                            But then the woman in the wicker chair
                            cried Havoc! and suddenly I was afire
                            because I saw, under the skirts of light,
                            the corpses of our laughter and delight
                            smashed and dismembered, bloodily bespattered
                            across the red carpet....

                                                           And still the solemn stare
                           of all the sleepy cats in Oxfordshire

One of the most interesting pre-war  poems about World War 2 - if such a genre is possible. The strange reflection of an unreal sedate world detached from the reality of war that is about to strike them. The motif-'Cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war'  from Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar', was repeated in Beverley Nichols book 'Cry Havoc' from 1934, advocating Pacifism, a stance Nichols was later to reject.

                                          XLII. AUTUMN 1940

                           The days were glorious- we remember that
                           because the clear September of that year
                           was good for bombers. We remember it
                           because the sky screamed and we were mere
                           items of wreckage in the ruined day,
                           the half- face or the limbless or the dead.
                           the convenient basis for the hero's fame,
                           the rescued in the hospital bed.

                           I was the man in the collapsing tower.
                           I was the body in the flooded shelter.
                           I was the mad objector shifting stone,
                          the conscious saint arising in his hour.
                          I was the bomber, the breaker and the welder
                          I was the shattered and the exulting son.

Strange understatement -September 7th 1940 is of course accepted as the first day of the London Blitz.

Best wishes for 2019 to all Blog visitors from round the world .  Have written an article on British World War 2 poetry for 'Everyone's War' , the magazine published by the Second World War Experience Centre.

If anyone has joined MeWe.Com   I have just started a MeWe War Poetry group

I am working on a further post for the companion blog to this one A Burnt Ship -devoted to 17th century war & literature.

And hoping to write a longer article on Timothy Corsellis for Worldwarpoetry.com