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.


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.

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

András Mezei, Poet of the Horrors

Thank you!

This article has been sent!