Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto

by Paul B. Janeczko, Various
     
 

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Paul B. Janeczko’s stirring new collection of poems goes inside the walls of the notorious camp to portray the indomitable spirit of those incarcerated there.

Hitler hailed Terezín (Theresienstadt) as a haven for artistic Jews, when in reality the Czech concentration camp was little more than a way station to the gas chambers. In his second book

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Overview

Paul B. Janeczko’s stirring new collection of poems goes inside the walls of the notorious camp to portray the indomitable spirit of those incarcerated there.

Hitler hailed Terezín (Theresienstadt) as a haven for artistic Jews, when in reality the Czech concentration camp was little more than a way station to the gas chambers. In his second book inspired by devastating history, acclaimed poet Paul B. Janeczko gives voice to this heartrending creative community: its dignity, resilience, and commitment to art and music in the face of great brutality. The many memorable characters he conjures include a child who performs in the camp’s now famed production of Brundibár, a man who lectures on bedbugs, and a boy known as "Professor," who keeps a notebook hidden in his shoe. Accented with dramatic illustrations by prisoners, found after WW II, Janeczko’s spare and powerful poems convey Terezín’s tragic legacy on an intimate, profoundly moving scale.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poet Janeczko (Worlds Afire) imagines life inside a Czech concentration camp in this collection of grim but forceful poems, written from the perspectives of fictionalized prisoners (with the exception of one "found” poem from a real-life inmate's journal), as well as their persecutors. Actual b&w sketches by prisoners that were recovered from the camp are also woven throughout. Janeczko allows his subjects to express their despair, confusion, and rage with unvarnished clarity. A musician, Anna Teller, acerbically describes how the Nazis permitted the prisoners to play music, wanting "the world to see/ the civilized and charming ghetto/ Hitler gave the Jews.” Another prisoner envisions seeking revenge for the murder of a loved one: "I would like to feed him my Sarah's ashes/ one spoonful after another/ without pause/ until he could no longer breathe.” Janeczko offers no easy explanations or closure where none can be found, but his powerful collection points to the troubling dual role that the arts played at Terezín—both as a chilling form of propaganda used by Nazis and an undeniable source of respite for their victims. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Nakedly stark accounts of circumstances unimaginable to most people today outside the pages of powerful writing like Janeczko's. Somewhat disturbing imagery makes this book most suitable for mature readers, but its intimate glimpses of life inside the Holocaust will likely rank it among the most worthwhile teen reads for years to come.
—Library Media Connection (starred review)

Janeczko draws on factual records to imagine fictional characters, who narrate each poem in this searing collection. The inmates speak in spare, accessible free verse, and the plain words contrast with the enormity of their personal heartbreak, cruelty, and loss. ...Together, the images and the poems capture unforgettable truths
—Booklist

VOYA - Ann Reddy Damon
Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto depicts life in the Czechoslovakian concentration camp from 1941 to its liberation. This camp was used to showcase the Nazi's attempts at preserving Jewish culture. Imprisoned artists and intellectual Jews from Prague lectured and performed before being shipped to other camps such as Auschwitz. In thirty-six sparse, free-verse poems, Janeczko uses different characters to tell the same stories. Additionally, nine drawings found after the liberation illustrate the text. Though based on actual events, only one of the characters is not fictional. Putting these poems next to each other makes each more powerful. For example, a tyrannical guard's voice commenting on a man's face as he stones a boy to death is juxtaposed with the voice of a prisoner. This prisoner fantasizes about killing just one of the soldiers through suffocation by cramming his sister's ashes in his nose and throat. A townswoman, though sympathetic when the Jews first arrive, laments her sacrifice when she is forced to leave her house; a commanding officer glibly describes the sacrifice he makes in giving up a brewery for a columbarium; and a prisoner lists sacrifices one after another as his friends, family, and neighbors are boarded onto numbered trains before his own train car is numbered. Requiem will find its place in the new curriculum as it offers so much context for fulcrum texts such as Wiesel's Night ( Bantam Books, 1982) or the Zusak's The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006/VOYA June 2006). Reviewer: Ann Reddy Damon
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
I would prefer if this book had been called a "Kaddish," the memorial prayer that Jews recite for the dead. The kaddish, however, is a celebration of life, and this is a book that speaks for the dead, in tortured and terrifying free verse. Three groups are represented by Janeczko's free-verse portraits: the Jewish victims, labeled with their numbered tattoos; the cruel Nazi soldiers; and the townspeople of Terezin, displaced by the German-created death ghetto. Terezinstadt gets a lot of literary attention because it was a "show camp," a cardboard flat covering the Nazis' true nature for killing by forcing Jewish artists to perform as marionettes for the visiting Red Cross. One local woman speaks of saving crusts of bread to feed starving children on her walks through the ghetto. The Nazis, the cruelest voices in the book, acknowledge the false front of the camp and that the next destination for the inmates is east, to the death camps. Such a chilling voice is represented in the poem, Lieutenant Theodor Lang ("We waited a few months...to resume the transports...The town was getting crowded...and the ovens of Auschwitz waited.") Perhaps the saddest voice is that of a child, Nicolas Krava, a boy who plays the lead in the famous camp opera Brundibar. This story of resistance and defiance was told in more detail by Tony Kushner with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. The poem's subject plays the lead in the play for sixteen days and then is transported only to be replaced—a totally expendable human being. Pictures in the books are the actual artwork of Terezinstadt prisoners. The Asylum, by Fritz Lederer most recalls Edvard Munsch's The Scream. The poems in this book are both disturbing and chilling and not for the very young. Recommendations for further study are amended. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—The tragedy and inhumanity of the Terezín ghetto come to life in this powerful collection. The vivid poems, all but one written by fictional inmates, their Nazi oppressors, and local residents, reverberate with suffering, fear, resignation, despair, courage, and unspeakable brutality. In 1941 the ghetto was created as a collection and transport camp for Jews and was later touted as an arts facility to fool the Red Cross inspectors into believing that this was a benign setting to nurture artistic expression. In the one found poem, Valter Eisinger/11956 asks his wife to find another companion if he were to be killed. He died in Buchenwald in 1945. Children's fears of separation and the indignities of daily life spent in filthy and unhealthy conditions cry out from these sensitively written poems, which are given depth and veracity by Janezcko's research. There are even glimpses of suppressed compassion toward the inmates felt by the Nazis. Illustrations discovered after the war and done by actual inmates are interspersed with the poetry. Some are chilling renditions of the horrific prison life while others recall aspects of the life left behind. The faces in one illustration seem to scream out in terror, reminiscent of The Scream by Edvard Munch. An afterword, author's notes, translations of foreign words, an extensive bibliography, and a list of websites are appended. Reading this along with Hana Volavkova's I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from the Terezín Concentration Camp (Schocken, 1978) creates an in-depth picture of the perversity of the Nazi's Final Solution.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Kirkus Reviews

A harrowing poetic evocation of the infamous concentration camp.

Though this award-winning poet has combed the bright expanse of the poetic spectrum, dabbling in lighter subjects and forms (A Foot in the Mouth, 2009, etc.), here Janeczko returns to a dark historic moment where artists met unspeakable tragedy, not unlike his poetic exploration of the 1944 Hartford, Conn., circus fire that claimed over 150 lives (Worlds Afire, 2007). He tells the grim tale of Terezín, the Czechoslovakian town transformed by the Nazis in 1941 into Ghetto Theresienstadt, a temporary way station for Jewish artists and intellectuals herded from Prague en route to the gas chambers. Estimating 35,000 perished in Terezín, Janeczko creates over 30 poems loosely representative of the experience of the 140,000-some European Jews who passed through the camp prior to its liberation by Russia in 1945. Drawing on research and haunting illustrations from Terezín inmates, Janeczko effectively portrays the graphic horror of such twisted incarceration from the perspective of both captive and captor. For example, imprisoned young Miklos' admission, "I am fragile / with fear," starkly contrasts that of SS Captain Bruno Krueger, who seems to savor describing an execution: "I ordered my Jews closer. / Close enough to hear / the twig snap of his neck."

Moving and brutal, a poetic remembrance of a tragedy too vast to forget. (Poetry. 14 & up)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763647278
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
08/09/2011
Pages:
102
Sales rank:
1,024,143
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Nakedly stark accounts of circumstances unimaginable to most people today outside the pages of powerful writing like Janeczko's. Somewhat disturbing imagery makes this book most suitable for mature readers, but its intimate glimpses of life inside the Holocaust will likely rank it among the most worthwhile teen reads for years to come.
—Library Media Connection

Janeczko draws on factual records to imagine fictional characters, who narrate each poem in this searing collection. The inmates speak in spare, accessible free verse, and the plain words contrast with the enormity of their personal heartbreak, cruelty, and loss. ...Together, the images and the poems capture unforgettable truths
—Booklist

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