My mom spent eleven months in Auschwitz. She watched her parents get machine-gunned before her. Has bullet scars on both sides of her breasts. She survived the ghetto, and was one of the young people chosen to work in a suitcase factory until the ghetto was liquidated on September 18, 1943.

After the liquidation was completed (and I don’t know where she was during that time), she was forced to drag out all the bodies from the apartments in the town in which she was born and grew up. After all the bodies were removed, she, along with the other young people left, were made to take all the furnishings and belonging to the ghetto residents outside, to be loaded onto Nazi trucks and taken to Germany.

Before she lost the ability to be nasty and hurtful she talked about some of what she went through. Art Spiegelman used her for notes for Maus and Maus II.

She was angry and afraid and emotions I’ve never understood since the day I was born. She was easy in telling tales, tales I couldn’t stop asking about — and couldn’t block out of my mind.

I’ve thought about her scar, and the blurred blue ink underneath, since I was old enough to touch her arm.


I want your number, mom —

the number
   first tattooed on your virgin flesh
then burned away
      in a pique of freedom

I need the number
   for a new covenant
   to wear your shame as
   my badge of memory
   one star
   one number
for each family lost
by each family serving
   as a Ner Tamid[1].

This is no covenant
   of secret mutilation
   passing a livestock brand
   from a time beyond memory
this –
   this is our new brand
   of bondage, body and
   to the strength and power we lacked
   in ages past and present.

I claim this covenant everlasting
between me and my uncles and aunts
   my grandparents and cousins
   my parents and sister and children

This is a covenant between
   we new priests of memory
   and our havurot[2]
   and temples
    and synagogues
    and shtibles[3]
    and homes
    and hearts

This covenant is to teach and remind
   remember and relate
how god did not Pass us Over
and heard not the helpless cries from ghettos
   truck exhausts   rifle stocks   bullets
   boxcars   camps
   dry showers

This covenant is to preach
   that a people of memory without strength
   a people of knowledge without
   are a people doomed to repeat
   a history well remembered

I pray for wisdom to battle hate
I bind my mind with t’fillin[4] of discipline of the hand
   and love between my eyes
I mourn destructions and deaths in dirge and sirens
And celebrate Warsaw rebellions, Maccabean redemptions

Engage in pilpul[5] and hevruta[6] among
   The untaught and unremembering
practice the arts of understanding
   and war without quarter
    or mercy

Baruch anachnu hasordimba’alei zikaron k’dosheinu asher kidashnu et atzmeinul’sherut ameinu la’ad Blessed are we the survivors masters and owners of our martyrs’ memories who have consecrated ourselves to our people’s service forever


Yom Ha’Shoah Ve’Hagvurah[7]
April 19, 2001


[1] Eternal flame, a light of remembrance
[2] Groups of students who learn together, or Jewish Reconstructionist congregations
[3] Small congregations of Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Jews meeting is small synagogues or family homes
[4] Leather phylacteries, leather straps and parchment boxes worn on the arm and head during daily prayers by Orthodox Jews
[5] Argumentative give-and-take used to understand and learn an academic point
[6] A pair or group of students learning together
[7] Holocaust and Heroism (Remembrance) Day