Page 103 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Ruth R.
The Ghetto Poems
of Abraham Sutzkever
The Holocaust was a period
of unspeak­
able humiliation and ugliness. Despite a natural growing tendency
today, in its aftermath, to want to wrest from those years sparks of
dignity and affirmation, the men and women who were caught in
the ghettos and camps knew its irredeemable misery and brutaliz­
ing force. Destruction is the antonym of creation. Not much of
value could be salvaged and even less could be fashioned as Euro­
pean Jewish civilization was laid waste and the human image re­
duced to skeletal worthlessness.
Abraham Sutzkever was one of a tiny percentage of creative art­
ists who lived through and survived the Holocaust. He was one of
fewer still who lived through it as a writer, producing between
1941 and 1945 some of his finest poems. The works of those years,
written not in retrospect, and not at a distance, but during the daily
wretchedness of ghetto life and under constant threat of death,
constitute an exceptional instance in the history of art. Sutzkever
knew that the writing of Yiddish verse in defiance of the Germans
could satisfy the demands of heroism, but only the achievement of
excellence in the writing ofYiddish verse could satisfy the demands
of art. His ghetto poems are the more significant because they are
not only expressions of the will to resist, but in their subtlety and
power, obdurate proofs of survival in a body ofwork that stands be­
yond circumstance and time.
The source of Sutzkever’s creative resilience during the War
years derives undeniably from his childhood and from his earliest
understanding of himself as an artist. Born in Smorgon, a small
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