Poems and Poetry

Return to Washington Heights | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

Is it self-indulgence to think
our personal life-stories
Have relevance for others?
Are we perhaps only healing ourselves?
when we reach into the reservoir
of a past life-altering experience?
Can we serve this-up to others who
Must and should empathize with us?

So it is when I reach into my Holocaust past.,
marked forever by these events.

Nowhere is this more evident
than in Washington Heights,
Manhattan’s upper west side neighborhood
where the largest number of German Jewish Holocaust
survivors in America lived and tried to rebuild their lives.
But never forgetting the loved ones left behind as
a painful testament to the guilt that hovers over them
by their very act of survival

I have returned to Washington heights
to the Washington Height’s streets of 22 years ago.
I marvel again at the beauty of Fort Tryon Park
which majestically overlooks the splendid Hudson River.
I hear German accented English, even Yiddish and again,
as in my childhood, am struck by the humor of many New York Jews,
mixing Americanisms with German regionalism.
(The Manheim German is so very different from that of the Berliner)
I see 80 year-old Mrs. Dingfelder from a small Black Forest farm
village,
sitting, in in a lawn chair, in front of her 6th floor apartment
building, quite lost.
(memories of the trauma of the past or simply old age?)
I hear ghetto blasters in front of her, as if they were not attached
to the new
Spanish speaking resident passers-bye.
There goes Mr. Marks entering the kosher bakery.
I need not go inside to know what he is ordering:
the family’s braided Chale for the Sabbath.
I continue to be touched by Mr. Simon walking to Saturday services,
without money and with his apartment keys hanging from his belt.

On Friday services, I stand with others who chant the Kaddish,
mourning for the dead.
I– for the grandparents who died in Gurs, a French Nazi
Concentration Camp.

I– for the Communist uncle shot in the streets of Karlsruhe by Nazi thugs.
I for the Polish uncle, sister-in-law and their two young children
who died in a cattle car on the road to Auschwitz.

I finally enter the memory of our old apartment with a view of the
majestic George Washington Bridge–
a symbol of the freedom America accorded my parents and me as their
son
who could live, without the threat of starvation, isolation and gas
chambers.

I am home… and yet a home never quite released from memories of
those Jewish immigrants, torn from their comfortable Jewish/German
lives
faced with the challenge of rebuilding lives in New York’s
Washington heights
and raising a son with only them as a connection to family lost.


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