At dawn on March 11th 1943, the 3351 Jewish people living in Monastir, Macedonia (what was Yugoslavia then) were rounded up from Monastir, and incarcerated, with all other Macedonian Jews. 7350 people crammed into the old Monopol tobacco factory in Skopje. Over two hundred people died in Monopol – of sickness, or killed by the Nazis.
Over the next eighteen days, they were transported to Treblinka death camp.
Eight people escaped from Monopol.
I read about this a few years ago, and wrote this poem, loosely based on Albert Safarti, the sole survivor in Macedonia.
Stones for the Shoah
I rise for Mitzvah.
Pale March sun shimmies in a pink frock.
Street lamps still stroke curious fingers
across slow, black ripples
of the River Dragor –
gold paths bleed to the west bank.
My feet imprint winter’s last breath,
past shining rows of doors
with brass nameplates and lion heads.
Shadow trees claw red brick walls
and unlit window eyes,
speechless witnesses to spent lives.
I scoop a pocket-warmed pebble
in my left palm.
There are no graves.
No marble tombs.
No names etched in polished headstones.
Yet every Itzhak, every Leo and Misha,
every Adela and Lea, every Rivka
tattoos my survivor’s heart,
as permanent as ink on wrists.
Snow and sorrow paves these streets.
I walk west. New offices of glass
obliterate old tenements
where three thousand people
were corralled in a hundred houses,
caged like battery hens.
Sky discards last scraps of night.
In a quiet alley, cobbles
wear scars of ghetto gates and bullets,
whisper memories of blood and bone.
With the first sound of birdsong
I place my stones.
This dawn marks the hour
the caged became cargo; driven out,
transported in cattle-cars to Treblinka
Gas and smoke and ashes.
This day, shalom
was silenced in the Shoah.
First published in Tarot December 2020
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