The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Gerard Sarnat

The Spirit Of Skidel Lives!*


November 9, 2016
Dearest children,

At the risk of breaking your hearts with these words too sad for words,
I feel an obligation to pass on a recently uncovered letter
which cousin Alan discovered in his mother's belongings after she passed.

If the original missive in Yiddish chokes readers with torrents of emotion,
let me try to create a relatively gentler device to "serve” the Inferno
like predigested food, leaving space to swallow and process its terrible bites.

I’m sharing today on this 74th anniversary, or yahrzeit, of Grandpa Bernie’s
family being massacred in a little town, or shtetl, that is now part of Belarus.
Perhaps our witnessing will honor their memory in some way.

Yidul Shushan writes about the fate of Skidel, which was then in Poland:
“1947 - Best Neighbor and Friend Merke -
I am Yidul Shushan who grew up next door to your family on Grodner Street.

My mother was Raizel. I am her youngest son. I had five sisters.
As children, we all played together with the horses and wagons.
Each of my siblings was gobbled by the Holocaust. Only I survived. 

The Skidler Benevolence Committee gave me an address.
Having no one closer to express what is going on in my mind,
I am writing to tell you how your family and mine were murdered.

In 1941 the Germans entered our village then burned it down.
We had nowhere to go. Your sister Chaya Rivka with her husband and children
went to the city of Eishyshok and perished in the most horrific way.

Everyone was buried alive. Your brother Mottel was with us in Skidel.
Itzka was taken 2 weeks before the war by the German army, never to return.
In 1942 the whole lot were shipped to Auschwitz.

They took 200 of our men and 250 of our women to the camps.
The rest were incinerated right away.
Mottel was among those taken to the camps, where sadly, he did not endure.

Within 3 weeks only 6 of us still existed: me; my sister Tzivka’s husband,
Leib’a Shtropinshkeh; Krain, Lewinski, and Werebejczyk Mandelbaum;
and 1 other Skidler Jew whose identity remains unknown.

Your uncle Neuman’s son also made it through the storm. He’s in the Russian army.
Since I was the only Jew from Skidel after we were liberated,
his letter was given to me. He is in Tzilobenshk. Perhaps you’ll be able to find him.

I can’t continue any more, and I know this letter will give you no pleasure.
But my conscience bothered me, so I wrote. You are not made of stone
but obviously want to know what happened to your family and what’s left of Skidelers.

Dearest friend, now I write you on the Yortzeit of Skidel Jewry -- November 9, 1942. 
I have a small request. If you have the ability and it isn’t too difficult,
send a package of food and coffee as our situation is very bad.

I have a wife and 10-month-old daughter.
She is Raizele, the exact name of my dear mother, may she rest in peace.
She is a true light. Since I was beaten severely in the camps, I am quite ill. 

Please forgive me for writing if this is a burden.
It would be a privilege if maybe Chicago’s Cousins Club could help us out.
Your neighbor and friend Yidel (usually a nickname for Yehuda), Shushan.” 

* Below was translated by Esther Chanie Dushinsky. PS, 4 Dec 2016, Peretz, a Skidler’s

ancestor, brought us full circle by reaching Shushan’s daughter Yona on the phone.






GERARD SARNAT's been nominated for Pushcarts. Gerry’s authored four collections: Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014) and Melting The Ice King (2016) which included work published in Gargoyle, Lowestoft, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, Tishman Review plus was featured in New Verse News, Songs of Eretz, Avocet, LEVELER, tNY, StepAway, Bywords and Floor Plan. Radius, Foliate Oak, Dark Run, Scarlet Leaf, Good Men Project, Anti-Heroin Chic, Winamop, Poetry Circle, Tipton Review, Creative Truth, Harbor Village, KYSO, Rumblefish and Ordinary Madness’ debut feature sets of new poems. Mount Analogue selected Sarnat’s sequence, KADDISH FOR THE COUNTRY, for distribution as a pamphlet in Seattle on Inauguration Day 2017 as well as the next morning as part of the Washington DC and nationwide Women’s Marches. In May “Amber Of Memory” was the single poem chosen for Gerry's 50th college reunion symposium on Bob Dylan; the Harvard Advocate accepted a second plus Oberlin, Brown and other universities in and outside the US accepted concurrent pieces. In August Failed Haiku presented his work first among over a hundred contributors. Later in 2017 Beautiful Loser’s main spread will be Sarnat’s poetry accompanied by an interview. For Huffington Post/other reviews, readings, publications, interviews; visit Harvard/Stanford educated, Gerry’s worked in jails, built/staffed clinics for the marginalized, been a CEO of healthcare organizations and Stanford Medical School professor. Married since 1969, he has three children, four grandkids.



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