I conclude here with a piece that was translated into English by Shawkat M Toorawa whose notes may be read at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/translator-notes/detail/49323.
Natalie Wood (17 December 2016)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was abroad when his predecessor Shimon Peres died.
So perhaps his visit and important speech to the Ukrainian Parliament marking the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre didn’t receive the international attention it deserved.
“We must not play a part in the sin of forgetting or denial … national leaders who support antisemitic, racist, or neo-Nazi ideas will not be welcomed as friends among the family of nations,” he warned.
Mr Rivlin’s words were a stern reminder of how the huge-scale atrocity was concealed by the Nazis and their Soviet collaborators for 21 years before being exposed by the renowned Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko in Babi Yar. The translation below is by Benjamin Okopnik.
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.
I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.
It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.
I see myself a boy in Belostok
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.
I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.
O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.
I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The “Union of the Russian People!”
It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed – very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.
-“No, fear not – those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!”
-“They break the door!”
-“No, river ice is breaking…”
Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.
And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.
No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.
There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!
Meanwhile, it is time to recall that poetry was among Mr Peres’s interests and soon after his passing, members of Voices Israel, the English language poetry society were reminded how he often quoted from Acceptance by Bene Israel Indian poet, Nissim Ezekiel.
… I am all alone
and you are alone.
So why can’t we be
alone together …
Indeed, he quoted this fragment at the opening of the 2013 Maccabiah Games, whose words it has been observed, should resonate with every citizen of Israel’s rainbow nation.
© Natalie Wood (03 December 2016)