Holocaust Poems

Poems about the Holocaust confront one of the darkest periods in human history, aiming to capture the profound tragedy, suffering, and loss experienced during the systematic persecution and genocide of millions.

These poems bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, honoring the memory of its victims and serving as a reminder of the atrocities committed. They may explore themes of resilience, survival, and the indomitable spirit of those who endured unimaginable hardships.

Poems about the Holocaust can be deeply moving, haunting, and evoke a sense of collective responsibility to ensure that such horrors are never repeated.

A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto

by Czeslaw Milosz

‘A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto’ by Czeslaw Milosz presents a description of the Warsaw Ghetto from the eyes of a “poor Christian.”

The poem is deeply connected to the Holocaust, both in its depiction of the destruction of the ghetto and the fear and uncertainty experienced by its inhabitants and in its exploration of the speaker's identity, waiting for the second coming of Jesus.

Bees build around red liver,

Ants build around black bone.

It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,

It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam

The Measures Taken

by Erich Fried

‘The Measures Taken’ by Erich Fried is a powerful piece about war and loss. The reader is asked to consider their concepts of good, evil, and who deserves to live throughout the poem. 

The Holocaust is a historical event that looms large over 'The Measures Taken,' as the poem was written by an Austrian Jew who lived through the horrors of Nazi Germany. The poem reflects on how the Holocaust impacted individuals and communities and how its memory continues to shape the world today. The poem also touches on how the Holocaust was a uniquely devastating event and how it represents a failure of humanity to protect its most vulnerable members.

The lazy are slaughtered

the world grows industrious

The ugly are slaughtered

the world grows beautiful

 

A Song on the End of the World

by Czeslaw Milosz

‘A Song on the End of the World’ by Czeslaw Milosz is an impactful poem that takes a paradoxical view of the apocalypse as a means of underscoring the surreality of facing cataclysm.

Milosz lived in Warsaw under Nazi occupation. His proximity led him to both see and hear many of the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand. Those experiences stayed with him throughout his life and although this poem is not his most explicit regarding the genocide it does still stem from its effects on Poland.

On the day the world ends

A bee circles a clover,

A fisherman mends a glimmering net.

Happy porpoises jump in the sea,

Woodchucks

by Maxine Kumin

‘Woodchucks’ by Maxine Kumin is a metaphorical poem which uses the conceit of a farmer hunting woodchucks to uncover the murderous tendencies only a position of power can reveal in humans.

The Holocaust is not elaborated on in the poem. However, the several indirect and direct references to this event, added to Kumin's background, evidently show it inspired the entire poem. It is no coincidence that the poem begins and ends with the killing technique called "gassing." Jews, like these pests, were killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling

to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses.

I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace

puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,

Lady Lazarus

by Sylvia Plath

‘Lady Lazarus’ is one of the best poems of Sylvia Plath and an ideal example of Plath’s diction. This poem contains Plath’s poetic expression of her suicidal thoughts.

Plath uses the Holocaust as a metaphor for her own struggles with mental illness and as a way of exploring themes of oppression, persecution, and power dynamics.

I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it——

Daddy

by Sylvia Plath

‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath uses emotional, and sometimes, painful metaphors to depict the poet’s own opinion of her father.

The poem contains numerous references to the Holocaust and the atrocities committed during World War II. The speaker draws comparisons between her own experiences and those of the victims of the Holocaust, suggesting that her father's cruelty and abuse are a kind of psychological warfare.

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot

For thirty years, poor and white,

Behaving Like a Jew

by Gerald Stern

‘Behaving Like a Jew’ by Gerald Stern is a lyric poem with elements of an elegy. It includes poet’s understanding of how suffering and death should be approached.

While it's certainly not mentioned by name, the Holocaust and other historically traumatic incidents inspired the poet's depiction of the Jewish man in this poem.

When I got there the dead opossum looked like

an enormous baby sleeping on the road.

It took me only a few seconds—just

Shooting Stars

by Carol Ann Duffy

A Jew waiting to fall apart into pieces, German soldiers waiting to kill more; this theme is featured in many holocaust poems of the 20th century and Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Shooting Stars’ is one of them. This piece tells the story of a Jewish girl who speaks of the sufferings she endured.

After I no longer speak they break our fingers

to salvage my wedding ring. Rebecca Rachel Ruth

Aaron Emmanuel David, stars on all our brows

beneath the gaze of men with guns. Mourn for the daughters,

Explore more poems about Holocaust

Vultures

by Chinua Achebe

‘Vultures’ is one of the famous poems of the Nigerian poet Chinua Achebe. It is a dark and somber piece that focuses on the Belsen concentration camp and a commandant who works there.

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