“If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t live” (A. Sutzkever: 1913-2010)


I was saddened to hear about the death of Abraham Sutzkever. Here’s a nice account of Sutzkever’s life up until the Holocuast from Haaretz:

Sutzkever was born in 1913 in the town of Smorgon, near Vilna, during the Czarist empire. After being deported to Siberia as a child, he later returned to independent Poland and began to write. In 1941 he was incarcerated in the Vilna ghetto, where he soon became active, notably in saving treasures from the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Following the liquidation of the ghetto, he and his wife Friedke escaped to the forests, where he fought alongside the partisans and was rescued by a special Soviet plane at Stalin’s personal order. After the war, he worked to rehabilitate Jewish life in Europe, testified at the Nuremberg Trials and immigrated to Israel in 1947.

From  the obit in the NY Times:

Abraham Sutzkever, one of the great Yiddish poets of his generation who evoked the nightmare of the Holocaust with images of a wagonload of worn shoes and the haunting silence of a sky of white stars, died Wednesday in Tel Aviv. He was 96.

Sutzkever helped salvage manuscripts and art from the Jewish community in Vilna, and later taking to the woods as a partisan, he often composed his poems while hiding in a coffin or crawling through the sewers.

“Night came, turning our abstractions grey.”  That’s the first line of a five part sequence called “Faces in the Mire,” from 1941. One of Sutzkever’s most haunting poems (at least in my opinion), “To my Child,” was written in 1943 in the Vilna Ghetto.  Here’s the closing sequence:

I wanted to swallow you child

to taste the future waiting for me.  Maybe you will blossom again in my veins.

I’m not worthy of you, though.

I can’t be your grave.

I leave you to the summoning snow,

this first respite.

You’ll descend now like a splinter of dusk in to the stillness,

brining greetings from me to the slim shoots under the cold.

Here’s an e-book of Sutzkever’s poems in English translation.

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