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Culture

András Mezei, Poet of the Horrors

András Mezei, a major poet of the Holocaust, died in his native Budapest on May 30. He was 78. As a child, Mezei survived the three-month Soviet siege of Nazi-occupied Budapest in the city’s Jewish ghetto. As a teen, he emigrated to Israel but returned to Hungary after just a year and half. He was a literary journalist and a prolific author of novels, filmscripts and poetry. After the collapse of Communist regime, he established the independent Budapest City Press and the literary-political journal Central European Times. Shortly before his death, he published a substantial volume of poetry, which included the two selections below.

FLAMES

The ones who gave up their personal cyanide tablets
to spare a child from agony in the gas —
themselves have kindled the burning bush,
the ones who approached the end with dignity
herded to cruel death but not like cattle —
themselves have kindled the burning bush,
the ones who were able to dig their graves and toss
hell behind themselves with the clumps of earth —
themselves have kindled the burning bush.

THE 20179TH

Like ink on the blotting paper, the number
tattooed in Auschwitz splinters and spreads
on the inside of my lower left arm
when I ride the tram in the summer
and, forgetting myself, I happen
to reach up in my short-sleeved shirt
to hang on to the strap.

May I never lift my right arm
if I forget the mark on my left.

Translated from the Hungarian by Thomas Ország-Land.

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