Auschwitz, a poem
"Selection" of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz-II-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland, May/June 1944, during the final phase of the Holocaust. Jews were sent either to work or to the gas chamber. The photograph is part of the collection known as the Auschwitz Album, which was donated to Yad Vashem by Lili Jacob, a survivor, who found it in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in 1945. Public domain.

The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Located in German-occupied Poland, Auschwitz consisted of three camps including a killing center. The camps were opened over the course of nearly two years, 1940-1942. Auschwitz closed in January 1945 with its liberation by the Soviet army.

Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million died. The death toll includes 960,000 Jews (865,000 of whom were gassed on arrival), 74,000 non-Jewish Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and up to 15,000 other Europeans. Those not gassed died of starvation, exhaustion, disease, individual executions, or beatings. Others were killed during so-called medical experiments.

Author Seymour Joseph wrote this poem in 1955, after his visit to Auschwitz.


This ground has kept its secret.

As a sheet covers a corpse so time and grass

have conspired to mask the crimes committed here.

The earthen mouth that devoured the dead

is now green-blanketed with daisy patches.

Yet we know. We know from the rusting

barbed wire fences, the squalid barracks,

the brick wall chipped with bulletholes,

the showers, the ovens, a mountain of shoes:

men’s shoes, women’s shoes, children’s shoes,

work shoes, dress shoes, black, brown, white,

worn and new.


Outside the flowers and sweetened breeze

belie what went before.


Our guide, older than his years, when bidding us goodbye

his eyes welled up with tears

and through his quivering lips he said,

“No more of this, no more.”


Seymour Joseph
Seymour Joseph

Seymour Joseph, now retired, was a longtime editor, writer, and graphic artist for People’s World’s predecessor publications. He is also a poet and blogger on current events.