On the 30th anniversary of the Yiddish poet Leyb Oblitsky’s death, the columns of the Forverts dedicated to Pearls of Yiddish Poetry featured the story of a deadly date, May 10. It was the day dubbed the auto-da-fé — which in Portuguese means “Act of Faith.” The specific act of faith to which the phrase was attached was a decree of the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition regimes condemning Jews to death.
Here is the way that Oblitsky described the situation.
S’brenen berg fun bikher,Fayer tsungen, royt un rizikShlenglen zikh in laylekher fun shvartse roykhn Leder-rukns kortshen zikh in veyen,Tovlen, alte oysgepruvte vekhter,Drikn fester zikh tsuzamenFayer-shlangen nisht derlozn!Zey dershtikn!Fayer-shlangen shlenglen zikh un dinen zikh vi sharfenUn farkrikhn tsvishen bleter — vayse grozn;Brenen bleter — shtil, shtil, fartsveyfelt, untertenik;Halb farsmalyet flien bleter in der heykh tsum himlKrayzn vayse tobn tsvishn roykh un funkenUn on fligl faln oyfn shayterShnel farvandlen bleter in share shurshndike ashnNor di oysyes shteyen alts nokh royte: Oysyes shrayenOysyes protetriem blutik/Voyen vintn zey antkegn;Vinter trogn ash-shtoyb tsu di himlenOysyes shvebn in der luftnHimlen vern royt far kharpeShteyen unter tsinder shikere fun bikher-flamenKep un penimer, vi sreyfesOygn — shislen ful mit grine samendike gazn.Zeyer vild gelekhterMisht zikh mitn knaken fun di shayterhoyfns — tsingerMitn gloken-klang fun kirkhesUn harmaten-brum fun mordfeld.
* * *|
Here is Goldie A. Gold’s English translation:
Mountains of books burn. Tongues of fire, huge and red, slither in sheets of black smoke. Leather spines shrivel in winnows. Book covers, old proven guardians press together — not to allow the tongues of fires to come near! To choke them. Fire tongues, thin and sharpened blades. And crawl between the leaves, white grass, leaves burn quietly, submissive. Half-charred, leaves rise to the sky. White pigeons circle between smoke and sparks, and without wings fall on the fire. Soon leaves become gray ash, but the letters are still red. The letters shout. Letters protest vehemently. Winds howl against them. Winds carry ash dust to the skies. Letters soar in the air. Skies become red with shame. Arsonists stand drunken with book flames: Heads and faces aflame. Eyes like bowls of green poisonous gases. Their wild laughter blends with the crackle of the bonfires. With the church bells ringing. And the gunfire of the killing field.