Goodness, would you look at that! February already.
Well, here it is Spring. I like to go by the Irish calendar. Not that you’d know by the weather. As I type, Storm Imogen is on her way.
So – we are due a good ol’ blog post. There will be one soon on my writer’s blog – I promise. But for now, I’m posting a link to an online publication by Poetry Northern Ireland: an anthology to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in January . It has an expanded remit to acknowledge atrocities other than those committed during World War II.
You can read it at the Poetry NI site, or download a PDF:
My poem ‘East’ is included in the anthology. It’s the final poem in my song cycle Notes from the Margins – but in a strange way it’s also where the song cycle began. For many years I had Ottla Kafka (married name, David) in my head. And eventually it was she who inspired the whole concept of the song cycle. The final project was formatted with what I hope might one day become the programme notes. These are the short notes for Ottla:
Ottla David was born Ottilie Kafka in Prague on October 29th, 1892. She was the youngest of four children, the eldest of whom was the writer Franz Kafka. From an early age Ottla proved to be the most independent of the Kafka children. Although she worked in the family shop after she left school, in later years she insisted on going to an agricultural college – against her father’s wishes. In 1917 she went to work on a farm owned by her brother-in-law. Later that year her brother, already suffering from tuberculosis, joined her for an eight-month stay. Throughout this time the relationship with her brother developed into a deep bond which lasted until his death in 1924.
In 1920 she married a non-Jew, Joseph David, with whom she had two daughters. In 1941 the deportation of Czech Jews began. Both of her sisters were deported to the Lodz ghetto where they died. As the wife of an ‘Aryan’, Ottla was exempt from deportation. It appears that she could not reconcile this situation with her sense of herself as a Jew. Ottla divorced Joseph. Having lost the protection of a Gentile husband, she was sent to the Terezín ghetto in 1942. On October 5th, 1943 she volunteered to accompany a children’s transport to Auschwitz. She was killed upon arrival on October 7th.
Her husband and daughters survived the War. The letters between Ottla and her brother Franz are now in a permanent collection at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
* * * * * * * *
My research led me to the children who survived the carnage of the Bialystock Ghetto, and who were moved to Terezín. It seems to me that the dates of their final journey match that of Ottla. Not long into drafting the poem, I found a list of just over one hundred children omitted from the original Bialystock list.
The names in ‘East’ are some of those children.