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The International School for Holocaust Studies

For The People I Love and Can't Forget – Poems and Memories of the Holocaust

Featured Book

Reviewed by Kathryn Berman

For The People I Love and Can't Forget

Maria Szapszewicz
Jacob's House Press, 2006
194 pages

Born in Lodz, Maria (nee Wajchendler) survived the Holocaust, as did her mother and one brother. Her other brother, father, and extended family perished. She spent time in the Lodz and Szydlowiec ghettos, worked in an ammunition factory in Starochowice, and was eventually sent to Auschwitz. She was liberated in the Bergen Belsen Nazi concentration camp.

In 1959 Maria was allowed to leave Poland, and she settled in St. Louis, Missouri. Later her husband and two small daughters joined her. A proud docent of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis, Missouri, she speaks regularly to groups of young students and other visitors about her experiences during the Holocaust.

In addition to the forty-seven poems, the book contains essays and short stories. She also incorporates stories told to her by her late husband Jacob. She bears witness to her Holocaust experiences through her writings and has an obvious talent in being able to express her feelings and memories. The book covers many topics, touching on her family life before the Holocaust and the home she loved, life in the shtetl, the ghetto, the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, her family and friendship during the Holocaust, and the Righteous Among the Nations.

Each story, based on Maria's memory, is unique. For example, she describes how she is able to hold on to life through the discovery of a beautiful little flower growing in the camp, pushing its way up through the snow. It is her secret, until it dies, but it gave her hope in the struggle for survival. In another she describes Simon Who Fought Back. Simon, like millions of others like him is shot by the Nazis, but not forgotten by Maria, who remembers him and has immortalized him through her poetry.

A lengthy interview given by Maria to the Imperial War Museum Archive in 1997, chronicling her Holocaust experiences, is also included.

Recalling her experiences on the transport to Auschwitz and in the Nazi extermination camp, she writes "We knew we were going to die, / But still on our lips / was the question, Why?" ("The Long Journey to Hell").

In "For Those Innocent People I Loved" we read:

My heart is crying
For those who are dying.
My heart is crying
For the children who are dying.
Not knowing what it means to be dead,
They are marching to the gas chambers,
Holding high their heads.
My heart is crying
For their mothers and fathers;
Holding onto their children tight,
They know the Germans' might.
Even so, some of them try to fight.
My heart is crying,
O dear G-d, why do You not hear our cry?

In her poem "The Home I Loved", dedicated to her husband Jacob Szapszewicz, she asks, "Why was it taken away from me, dear Lord?"

However, throughout her ordeal it seems she has retained her belief in G-d, and maintained an optimistic and positive outlook.

Reflecting on life after the Holocaust she writes:

"Life was continuing its course.
We had to go on.
We realized we could not mourn forever.
They say time heals; time consoles.
But our memories and pain will last forever.
We cannot forget our loved ones. Never."

This book, Maria's legacy to her children and grandchildren, provides readers with a detailed insight into the window of a Holocaust survivor's experiences. Overall, this book is difficult to put down, raising many open-ended questions.