Poem from Ukraine

Bitburg – September 2022


Grandma Ida sent letters and money to her family in Poland

― or was it Ukraine?

Until the letters came back stamped,


The addressees had been delivered,

and the entire town disappeared.


In Bitburg, last fall,

her grandson paid a visit to the well festooned section of cemetery

where forty-nine SS men rest.

A searing sculpture the sole reminder of what

the resting men did when they were



While my German friends witnessed,

I spoke and disturbed their rest:

“SS men, there is no hiding now.

That is over.


I know what you did in the forest.

I know what you did in the camps.

I know what you did in the ghettos.


I know about the singing tree and the standing cell.

I know about eradicating the imperfect ones in your nursing homes.

I know how you used fire, bullets, clubs, torture, and gas.

I know how you used fear, slavery, starvation, and disease.


And yet,

I can feel the visceral mystique that lifted me up

when I wore a uniform.

I sense what most of you were after,

probably the same as me:

glory ⸺ rightful entitlement achieved.


How handsome you looked in your uniform.

You thought glory was respect.

I, too, thought glory was respect.


Go back to your rest now.

Someone knows.


Peter Sternberg

From his forthcoming book: Tai Chi at Auschwitz


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Poem from Ukraine

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