new zealand electronic poetry centre

ka mate ka ora  

a new zealand journal of poetry and poetics
issue 14,  july 2016


WAR POEMS for Ka Mate
Pekelkist: Some poets’ responses to war.

Ricci van Elburg

 

The following poems all refer to the Second World War, specifically as it was experienced in the Netherlands.
 

Brief historical context.

At dawn on May 10 1940 German troops invaded the Netherlands from the east in several places. At the same time a large airborne force landed in the western provinces. Their aim was to secure airfields and major bridges over the rivers in the southwest of the country, and to invade the harbour at Rotterdam from the west. After three days of fighting on several local fronts Germany issued an ultimatum on the 14th: surrender or we will bomb Rotterdam like we bombed Guernica and Warsaw. Not stated in those terms of course. While negotiations over details were still being held, the bombers arrived, the centre of Rotterdam was bombed with the result that about 900 people were killed, 25.000 houses were destroyed and fires had started everywhere. Any hesitation about surrendering was cut short by another ultimatum threatening the same treatment for Utrecht, and after that no doubt The Hague and Amsterdam. On May 15 the Netherlands capitulated and became occupied territory, except the southern province of Zeeland, where the French army was for the moment holding its ground.

Almost immediately a network of resistance fighters and subversives was started, contacts being made mainly by means of word of mouth or chainmail letters. Part of the ‘small resistance’ was the use of cartoons making fun of the Germans and encouraging civil disobedience. At the end of the text I have added a few samples of the kind of images that were distributed through unofficial channels. One way of putting up posters was for one person to barely pause in their walk and quickly spread paste on a wall or a post, for a second one to come along, slap a poster on to the wet paste and walk away. The posters were made with large letters so they could be read in passing. Images at verzetsmuseum plakken
The Dutch royal family belonged to the House of Oranje, so wearing orange costume jewellery was also part of the ‘klein verzet’, small resistance. No doubt people with gardens delighted in planting marigolds.

All illegal work was of course dangerous, there were members of the Dutch National Socialist Party who worked for and with the occupying forces and might betray you. Probably not yet realising how careful one had to be, nor how hard it was to know whom to trust, members of one of the earliest resistance groups were overheard in conversation, and a collaborator informed the Germans. Many were arrested, some were tortured, and on 13 March 1941 the first mass execution was carried out: 18 resistance fighters and Communist Party members were shot.

The following poem was written in 1941, in the voice of one of those waiting to be executed. A list of their names can be seen on the website of the Dutch resistance museum, at www.verzetsmuseum.org. The execution ground, the Waalsdorpervlakte, an area of sand dunes near The Hague, is now a war memorial site. During the war at least 250 people were shot there, for being in the resistance, for publishing or distributing anti-German material, or for other infringements of German orders. 

In the translations I have not tried to create rhyme where the original poem rhymes but aimed to keep the cadence of the originals. Where there are end-rhymes in the original they are easily seen without being familiar with the sounds. 

 

Jan Campert,

Het Lied der Achttien Dooden

Een cel is maar twee meter lang
en nauw twee meter breed,
wel kleiner nog is het stuk grond,
dat ik nu nog niet weet,
maar waar ik naamloos rusten zal,
mijn makkers bovendien,
wij waren achttien in getal,
geen zal den avond zien.

O lieflijkheid van licht en land,
van Holland’s vrije kust,
eens door den vijand overmand
had ik geen uur meer rust.
Wat kan een man oprecht en trouw,
nog doen in zulken tijd?
Hij kust zijn kind, hij kust zijn vrouw
en strijdt den ijdlen strijd.
 
Ik wist de taak die ik begon,
een taak van moeiten zwaar,
maar ‘t hart dat het niet laten kon
schuwt nimmer het gevaar;
het weet hoe eenmaal in dit land
de vrijheid werd geëerd,
voordat een vloekbre schennershand
het anders heeft begeerd.

Voordat die eden breekt en bralt
het miss’lijk stuk bestond
en Holland’s landen binnenvalt
en brandschat zijnen grond;
voordat die aanspraak maakt op eer
en zulk Germaans gerief
ons volk dwong onder zijn beheer
en plunderde als een dief.

De Rattenvanger van Berlijn
pijpt nu zijn melodie,  –
zoo waar als ik straks dood zal zijn,
de liefste niet meer zie
en niet meer breken zal het brood
en slapen mag met haar –
verwerp al wat hij biedt of bood
die sluwe vogelaar.

Gedenkt die deze woorden leest
mijn makkers in den nood
en die hen naastaan ‘t allermeest
in  hunnen rampspoed groot,
gelijk ook wij hebben gedacht
aan eigen land en volk –
er daagt een dag na elke nacht,
voorbij trekt elke wolk.

Ik zie hoe ‘t eerste morgenlicht
door ‘t hoge venster draalt.
Mijn God, maak mij het sterven licht –
en zoo ik heb gefaald
gelijk een elk wel fallen kan,
schenk mij dan Uw genâ,
opdat ik heenga als een man
als ‘k voor de lopen sta.

                        From Jan Campert, Verzamelde Gedichten 1922 – 1943, pp. 219-20.
 

The Song of the Eighteen Dead

A cell is just two meters long
and a bare two meters wide,
still smaller is the piece of ground,
that I do not yet know,
but where I, nameless, will be laid,
as my comrades will be too.
There were just eighteen in our band,
not one will see tonight.

O loveliness of light and land,
of Holland’s seashore free,
once by the enemy overrun
I could not be at rest.
What can a man honest and true
decide at such a time?
He kisses both his wife and child 
and fights the hopeless fight.

I knew the task that I took on,
a task heavy with cares,
but the heart that could not help itself
will never fear the risk;
it knows how once throughout this land
all freedom was revered,
before the cursed destroying hand
decided otherwise.

Before the braggart who breaks oaths
revealed his terrible nerve,
invading Holland’s  motherland
and ravaging its ground;
before he, laying claim to honour
and such Germanic worth,
forced all of us under his might
and plundered like a thief.

Now the Pied Piper from Berlin
plays a tempting melody, –
as sure as I will soon be dead,
no longer see my love
and no more break my bread with her
or ever sleep with her –
reject all he may offer you
that sly catcher of rats.

Remember you who read these words
my comrades in their plight
and most of all their dear ones left
in this hour of their need,
as we have thought in what we did
of our people and our land –
a day dawns after every night,
each cloud must drift away.

I see how early morning light
creeps in the window high,
My God, may my dying not be hard – 
and if in life I failed
as any one sometimes may fail,
be merciful to me, 
so that I face it like a man
when they train their guns on me. 

 

Jan Campert, 1902 – 1943, was a journalist, poet, drama critic and short story writer.
Campert himself was arrested in 1942 for helping Jewish people to escape via Belgium; he was taken to the concentration camp at Neuengamme in Germany, where he died on January 12, 1943. No details about his death or possible grave are known. The official cause given was pneumonia.

The poem appeared in two illegal newspapers, about a month after Campert’s death. From there it was made into a pamphlet to raise funds for the Committee for Children, which had been started by students in Utrecht with the aim of rescuing Jewish children. Several reprints brought the total to about 15 000 copies, raising during the war some 75 000 guilders. Some of the money helped to publish, also underground, more resistance literature by the group which became the co-operative publishing house De Bezige Bij.
The poem is still recited at yearly commemorations when on May 4 there is a silent procession to a cemetery or a war memorial in every town in the country. 

 

Bertus Aafjes,

De laatste brief

De wereld scheen vol lichtere geluiden
En een soldaat lag op zijn overjas.
Hij droomde lachend dat het vrede was
Omdat er in zijn droom een klok ging luiden.

Er viel een vogel die geen vogel was
Niet ver van hem tusschen de warme kruiden.
En hij werd niet meer wakker want het gras
Werd rood, een ieder weet wat dat beduidde.

Het regende en woei. Toen herbegon
Achter de grijze lijn der horizon
Het bulderen – goedmoedig – der kanonnen.

Maar uit zijn jas, terwijl hij liggen bleef,
Bevrijdde zich het laatste wat hij schreef:
Liefste, de oorlog is nog niet begonnen.

                        From Dichters van dezen tijd, p. 270.

 

The last letter

The world seemed full of lighter sounds
And on his overcoat a soldier slept.
He dreamt smiling that there was peace 
For in his dream a church bell tolled.

A bird that was no bird fell down
Not far from him among the summer flowers.
And he did not wake up because the grass
Grew red and we all know what that would mean.

It rained and blew. And then began
Behind the grey line of the horizon
The rumbling – quite good-natured – of the cannons.

But from his coat, while he remained so still,
Escaped the last thing that he wrote:
Darling, the war’s not yet begun. 

 

Bertus Aafjes, 1914 – 1993. One of his pseudonyms was ‘Jan Oranje’, under which name he published anti-German poems during the war. In an interview in 1971 with Joos Florquin Aafjes explains that some of those poems made it to England, where they were read on Radio Oranje, the Dutch radio station in exile. It became known who the author was so Aafjes had to go underground. He lived with a family in Friesland, where he could only go outside, in the garden, after dark. He describes how he walked back and forth under the apple tree, quietly, in case anyone heard him and peered over the hedge. (aafjes/florquin)
In the same interview we hear how, just before the war began, he was on his way home from Italy, where he had been in prison for insulting Fascism. Catching rides with French trains returning from troop transport, Aafjes found himself on a railway station in Paris, where French soldiers slept while waiting for their trains. The poem was written there and then. 

 

Remco Campert, 

When we were very young

verkoolde en verroeste brokken
van neergeschoten bommenwerpers
zijn de onheilstekens
waaronder ik jong nog speelde

tussen afgeknotte bomen
en verschroeid struikgewas
boven mij zonsverduisteringen
zat ik in de cockpit

mijn handen die onwetend
contact zochten met de dood
in het verstoorde spinneweb
van het nieuwgeurend stuur

in dikke stukken kogelvrij glas
ving ik het schaarse licht op
dat uitliep op de grond
een lauwe, weke plas

later ging ik verward naar huis
ik vond ook die dag het spoor nog niet
de sleepteen van de tijd
in het rulle zand

                        From Alle Bundels Gedichten, p. 10

 

When we were very young

charred and rusted chunks
of shot-down bomber planes
are the omens of doom
under which, still young, I played

between broken trees
and scorched shrubs
above me solar eclipses
I sat in the cockpit

my hands which unknowingly
sought contact with death
in the deranged spider web
of the new-smelling controls

in thick pieces of bulletproof glass
I caught the sparse light
that ran out on the ground
a lukewarm, pale puddle

later I walked home confused
that day again I did not find the trace
the trawl-toe of time
in the loose sand

 

Remco Campert, born in 1929, is the son of Jan Campert.
During the war the neighbourhood in The Hague, where he lived with a foster family, was being demolished by the Germans, and the family moved east to Epe, a small town in the middle of the country. In the fields and woods around Epe he may well have found a crashed plane and done exactly what is described here.
He was twelve or thirteen when his father was taken prisoner and deported to a German concentration camp. In a radio interview with Jan Donkers in 1991 Remco Campert tells how it took him almost forty years before he felt he could write about the death of his father. He describes how his mother, the actress Joeki Broedelet, came to see him in Epe to tell him the news, and how he, a young boy, ‘felt nothing / but knew that I ought to feel something’ and how he only wanted to tell her about the tree hut he was building and the snares he set for rabbits.
The poem ends:

            only later did I feel pain
            that never went away

            that still pervades my body
            now I’m writing this

            long ago but so near
            time lasts one person long

                                    From Scènes in Hotel Morandi, 1983.  Hotel Morandi

Remco Campert still writes a column for the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.

 

Paul Rodenko,

Bommen

De stad is stil.
De straten
hebben zich verbreed.
Kangeroes kijken door de venstergaten.
Een vrouw passeert.
De echo raapt gehaast
haar stappen op.

De stad is stil.
Een kat rolt stijf van het kozijn.
Het licht is als een blok verplaatst.
Geruisloos vallen drie vier bommen op het plein
en drie vier huizen hijsen traag
hun rode vlag.

                                  From Orensnijder Tulpensnijder, p. 16.

 

Bombs

The town is still.
The streets
have widened out.
Kangaroos look through the window frames.
A woman passes.
The echo gathers hastily
her steps.

The town is still.
A cat rolls stiffly off the windowsill.
The light is shifted as a block.
Soundlessly three four bombs fall in the square
and three four houses slowly raise
their red flag.

 

Paul Rodenko, 1920 – 1976, was born in The Hague, with a Russian father and a Dutch/English mother. Rodenko was one of the few who signed the loyalty statement that the German occupation force demanded if one wanted to teach or study at a university or publish anything. His explanation was that his lecturer in psychology was also his therapist and was necessary to him. He was also afraid that otherwise he would be sent to Germany and end up producing ammunition that would be used against his own, Russian, people. As a result Rodenko was excluded from university studies for a year and a half after the war.
On the other hand, he did some work in the resistance, and during the last two years of the war he lived, like Aafjes and many others, as an ‘onderduiker’, literally indicating a ‘diving under’: hidden from any officially known address so as not to be seized by the German military. Underground organisations provided forged papers and ration cards so the hosts could buy food for their hidden guests. Anne Frank is of course the most famous of the ‘onderduikers’.

 

Koos Schuur,

Het kind en ik

Wanneer des nachts de donkre vogels komen
en ons weer wekken met hun stalen stem,
roept hij heel zacht mijn naam en zeg ik hem
dat het weer nacht is en wij samen dromen.

Beneden op de trap is alles duister,
daar zit hij op mijn knie en luistert hij
naar wat mijn stem nog liegen kan, waarbij
het dreunen wedijvert met mijn gefluister.

‘Slaan ze de trom, Koos, zijn het de kabouters
die weer een optocht houden door de straat?
Ziet de politie hen dan niet, die stouters?’

Geef mij vannacht – dat ik mij niet verraad – 
voor deze schande weer opnieuw een leugen
die voor dit slaapzwaar kind, god, nog kan deugen!

                        From Gedichten 1940 – 1960 p. 38.



The child and I

When in the night the dark birds come once more 
and wake us up again with their metallic voices,
he calls my name so softly and I say
it’s night again and we must both be dreaming.

Down on the staircase in the total darkness
he hunkers on my knee and listens to
whatever my voice still can lie so that
the rumbling must compete with what I whisper.

‘Are they beating their drums, Koos, is it goblins
holding another long parade down in the street?
Does the police not see them being naughty?’

Give me tonight – so I don’t give myself away – 
For this disgrace a new lie once again
That for this sleepy child, dear god, will be enough.

 

Koos Schuur, 1915 – 1995, became a journalist at age 20 for a regional newspaper in the province of Groningen. In 1938 he published his first poem. When the war started he joined a local resistance group but when they were betrayed by and infiltrator he moved to Amsterdam where he too lived as an ‘onderduiker’. 
Koos Schuur was one of the poets who, in 1945, were awarded the Resistance Prize for writers who had done exceptionally useful work during the war.
After the war he worked at the Bezige Bij publishing house, and in 1951 he and his young family emigrated to Australia. In 1962 he returned to the Netherlands. 

 

M. Vasalis,

Fragmenten uit een journaal

6-6-’42. De tweede hete dag. De K. straat met mevrouw P. De straat was breed en zonnig, maar al stoffig-zonnig. Langzame zware joden met sterren, dunne profeten met sterren en tenslotte spelend en naarstig zwoegend op een driewielertje twee dunne jodenjongetjes van een jaar of zes in gele badpakjes. Onder hun sleutelbeendertjes een gele ster en daarop stond jood, bijna op hun blote gouden huid. Hun schouderbladen staken uit als dichtgevouwen vleugels. Ze hadden kostbare ogen. Het leken onaardse wezentjes, door domme reuzen niet herkend en gemerkt met een scheldwoord. 
[…]

26-7. Gisteren consult in de Colensostraat, een straatje als een komma tussen de langdradige zinnen van de Transvaalbuurt. In de huiskamer zat een oude jood, keurig gekleed, en in de alcoof daarachter lag in het halve duister zijn dochter. Een donker, bleek meisje, bewegingloos met wijd-open ogen; in haar hals klopte snel, veel te snel haar pols. Ze lag in een onzichtbare strik. Naast haar een baby van zes maanden, rond, vast gezichtje, lachend en grijpend naar mijn stethoscoop.
De jonge vrouw meent steeds, dat ze al op transport naar Duitsland is en grijpt af en toe het kind zo stijf in haar armen, dat het huilt.

From ‘Fragmenten van een journaal’ in Voor wie dit leest: Proza en Poëzie van 1920 tot Heden, pp. 91-2.

 

Fragments from a journal

6-6-’42. The second hot day. The K. street with mrs. P. The street was wide and sunny, but already dusty-sunny. Slow heavy Jews with stars, thin prophets with stars and finally playing and diligently labouring on a tricycle two thin Jewish boys of about six in yellow swimming costumes. Below their collarbones a yellow star with Jew written on it, almost on their bare golden skin. Their shoulder blades stuck out like folded wings. They had precious eyes. They seemed unearthly beings, not recognised by stupid giants and marked with a term of abuse.
[…]

25-7. Yesterday house-call in the Colenso street, a little street like a comma among the long-winded sentences of the Transvaal district. In the living room sat an elderly Jew, neatly dressed, and in the alcove behind him in the half-dark lay his daughter. A dark, pale girl, motionless with wide-open eyes; in her neck a pulse beat fast, much too fast. She lay in an invisible snare. Next to her a six months old baby, firm, round little face, smiling and grabbing at my stethoscope.
The young woman thinks over and over that she is already on a transport to Germany and every so often clasps the child so tight in her arms that it cries.

 

M. Vasalis, 1909 – 1998. Born in The Hague, she studied medicine in Leiden and specialised in child psychiatry.
Fragments from a journal was first published in the literary magazine Criterion in 1945. She lived in Amsterdam during the entire war. Vasalis published only three volumes of poetry, but her work became very popular and her poems appear in numerous anthologies.

 

 Rie Cramer,

Joodsch kind

Zij wacht hem elken avond aan den trein
Het meisje met d’on-arisch zwarte haren,
met ogen, die verstrakken in een staren
of vader gauw de tunnel door zal zijn.

Forensen schuiflen langs de binnendeur
en schieten van de trap in daag’lijks jachten,
Het donkre kind kan enkel staan en wachten
vlak bij het hokje van den conducteur.

Dan zwaait een mannenarm een verren groet,
Op’t klein gezicht bloeit plotseling herkennen,
Ze moet op slag hard naar haar vader rennen,
Hij bukt zich laag en zoent haar smalle toet.

Nu gaan ze samen door den laten dag,
De man gebogen en van zorg gebeten,
Het ratelstemmetje wil erg graag weten
Waarom ze nog niet naar het zwembad mag . . .

O Heer, ik heb vandaag één bede maar:
Elk Joods gezin wordt haast vaneengereten,
Laat de Gestapo deze twee vergeten,
Laat die in Jezus’ naam toch bij elkaar.

From Geuzenliedboek 1940 – 1945, p. 61

 

Jewish Child.

She waits for him each evening by the train
The girl with the un-arian black hair,
With eyes that start to stiffen into a stare
To see if father has come through the tunnel yet.

Commuters shuffle past the inner door
And shoot out from the stairs in daily haste.
The dark child can do nothing but stand waiting
Close by the cubicle for the conductor.

Then a man’s arm waves in a distant sign,
On the small face quick recognition blooms,
At once she has to run towards her dad
He bends right down and kisses her thin face.

They go together through the end of day
The man with bowed head and with care-worn face,
The chatterbox beside him wants to know
Why she still can’t go to the swimming pool . . .

O Lord, I have just one prayer for today:
Most Jewish families are torn apart,
Let the Gestapo men forget these two,
Let them in Jesus’ name remain together.  

 

 

Rie Cramer, 1887 – 1977. Writer, illustrator, theatre designer. She is best known for her children’s books which she both wrote and illustrated. Before the war she had published two novels; they were confiscated and banned by the German authorities because in them she criticised national-socialism and the persecution of Jewish people.
The poem here is one of about thirty she wrote and distributed illegally. In the summer of 1945 they were published in a volume titled Verzen en Verzet: Songs and Resistance. They appear also in Geuzenliedboek 1940 – 1945 among almost 300 underground poems collected and published after the war. During the war smaller, separate versions were printed and shared. The first effort at collecting and publishing all of them was started in 1942. The printer, Allard Honing, was arrested in a raid on his premises and deported. He died in a concentration camp. But the work went on and in 1945 the full collection was published. 
‘Geuzen’, from French gueusard, vagabond or beggar, was taken as a badge of honour by the resistance in the Netherlands, then under occupation by the Spanish under Philip II in the 16th century. The term was revived in 1940.

 

Lucebert,

Werelddeel

oh hoe prachtig rustig groeien ruïnes
onder rood de lucht bespattende vliegmachines
en op verfraaide wintervoeten biechtelingen
piepende hier en daar zwerven de pater toe
en hoe als hoorde hij zacht nog ‘mamma’ zingen
zo star verstokt hurkt op de kraterringen de blinde

en als snelle slapers vallen de grote vogels
en de kleine vlerken als schichtige vlokken vallen
en daardoor bonzend een zonnehoed bouwen de bommen
maar de pinken de pinken die druplen die tikken
en maar de wimpers neerslachtig ruisen en knielen
en daardoor en daardoor bonzend een schroeiende zonnehoed
                                                                 bouwen de bommen

rondom de ruiters en rondom hun stokpaard
over de aarde van zuigers over de aarde van blazers
oh hoe toch prachtig en rustig daar groeien ruïnes
en daarenboven: oh hoe prachtig hardvochtige vliegmachines
bespatten het luchtige lichaam met snauwende vlammen en vliegen

                                    From Van de afgrond en de luchtmens, p. 12.

 

continent

oh how splendidly tranquilly ruins grow
under red the naked sky bespattering flying machines
and on embellished chilblained feet confessants
squeaking here and there wander towards the priest
and how as if he still heard softly singing ‘mama’
so stony stiff sits on the crater rim the blind one

and like speedy sleepers the great birds fall
and the little wings fall like skittish flakes
and pounding through that bombs are building a sun hat
but the calves the calves they dribble they tick
and the eyelashes rustling sadly and kneeling
and through that and through that pounding a scorching
                                                       sun hat the bombs are building

all around the riders and all around their hobby horse
over the earth of suckers over the earth of blowers
oh yet how splendid and tranquil there ruins grow
and above all: oh how splendidly hard-hearted flying machines
bespatter the airy body with snarling flames and fly   

 


 

oorlog & oorlog

Zij komen glanzend overgevlogen
onder de bloedende moeder
smelt de eerste sneeuw

Onder wuivende palmen
monstert  hij de nieuwe limousine van zijn schoonzoon

                                                 From Alfabel, p. 22.

 

war & war

Gleaming they come flying over
under the bleeding mother
melts the first snow

Under swaying palm trees
he inspects the new limousine of his son in law

 

Lucebert, 1924 – 1994, was a Dutch poet and visual artist. Born in Amsterdam, he was not quite sixteen when Germany invaded the Netherlands. After high school he studied briefly at the Institute for Applied art, later the Rietveld academy, until his father removed him and gave him work in his painting and decorating business. Wanting to be an artist, Lucebert left home and lived rough for a time. His formal schooling had ended but he taught himself by reading voraciously and delving in the dictionaries of many languages.
During the war Lucebert was taken to Germany for a time, performing forced labour in a munitions factory.
The two wars refer to both the war in Europe and the Dutch suppression of the independence movement in Indonesia immediately after 1945. One of the first poems Lucebert published, in1949, was titled ‘Love letter to our tortured bride Indonesia’.

 

Ellen Warmond,

een reisverhaal
                                    voor Tomi en Barbara

Mijn vader was een jood je kunt
het zien zei hij ik ben zijn zoon

toen hij in 43
een mist geworden was
rook die optrok boven
de brandende schreeuw van een zweep
nam ik zijn gezicht en droeg
het verder door de wereld
een rechtvaardiging dacht ik

ik was in veel landen daarna ik leerde
de internationale
stameltaal van de  honger
en het spijkerschrift der vernedering

nu leest men in mijn gezicht
een aanleiding tot een aanklacht
want ik draag in mijn ogen
zijn kampnummer
het brandmerk
van een ontsnapte

geef mij je adres dan zal ik
je later die krant opsturen
met de foto van Het Incident
waardoor de vonk van de laatste
massacre werd aangeblazen

de foto met het gezicht
van mijn vader

  From Naar men zegt, p. 22

 

a travel story
                        for Tomi and Barbara

My father was a jew you can see
it he said I am his son

when in 43 he
had become a mist
smoke that rose above
the burning scream of a whip
I took his face and carried
it further through the world
a justification I thought

I was in many countries afterwards I learned
the international
stammer-language of hunger
and the wedge-shaped script of humiliation

now they read in my face
an occasion for an accusation
for I carry in my eyes
his camp number
the brandmark
of an escapee

give me your address and I will
later send you the paper
with the photograph of The Incident
by which the spark of the last
massacre was fanned

the photograph with the face
of my father

 

Ellen Warmond 1930 – 2011. Born in Rotterdam she was ten years old when the centre of the city was bombed in May 1940.  She became a ballet dancer and later worked in the Dutch Museum for Literature in The Hague.

 

Gerrit Kouwenaar,

historisch

Wat was het zout schaars in 1944
!
wij hadden vaak het gevoel de werkelijkheid
wordt nu werkelijk
geweld aangedaan

slagcrème om nog iets te noemen
verkleefde zich voorgoed
met onze taalschat, hoe
luchtig ook maar tevens
hoe letterlijk stof
geworden honger die rauwe bonen zoet maakt

maar het zout ondertussen: o gij latergekomenen
weeg dit af: 1 kilo
ongezuiverde pekel (door flauwe
mevrouwen van vrijwel alle rangen
en standen uit de taps toe
lopende kistjes op de a’damse bruggen
geheel ongehinderd ontvreemd omdat
de a’damse politie elders
het joodse vraagstuk oploste) kostte
toen evenveel als nu
10 potten bijenhoning
of
het verzamelde oeuvre van 2 x 5
5-tigers –

 From 100 Gedichten, p. 123

 

historical

How scarce the salt was in 1944
!
we often felt reality
is now really being violated

whipping cream to mention just one thing
stuck forever 
to our vocabulary, how
ever airy but also
how literally hunger became
the stuff that is the best sauce

but salt meantime: o thou later-comers
weigh this up: 1 kilogram
unpurified grit salt (by saltless
ladies from virtually every rank
and class removed from the tapered
wooden boxes on the a’dam bridges
entirely unhindered because
the a’dam police were elsewhere
solving the jewish question) cost
then as much as now
10 jars of pure honey
or
the collected oeuvre of 2 x 5
5-tigers –

 

Gerrit Kouwenaar, 1923 – 2014, was one of those 5-tigers, literally the Fiftiers, Dutch poets who became known as the experimental writers. Having survived five years of German occupation they needed to find a new way of responding to their experiences and to a much-changed world. Lucebert was also a 5-tiger.
During the war Kouwenaar published in clandestine journals such as Parade der Profeten for which he was arrested and spent six months in prison. After being freed he too became an ‘onderduiker’ to avoid further arrests.
The wooden boxes (pekelkist) on the bridges contained salt and grit and a scoop so pedestrians could spread it on slippery patches in winter.

 

Clara Eggink,

Doodenmarsch
                        Aan G. Z.

Ik waag mij haast niet in die straat,
Waar gloeiend puin in ‘t donker staat.
De wind loeit om een bouwval top,
Een schelle vlam schiet suizend op,
Belichtend, als in spotternij,
De resten van wat huisgerei.
Hier vond wie daaglijks nam en gaf
Een ruw en eindloos massagraf.
Het werk van hersens, hand en lust
Is even grondig uitgeblust.

Ik wend mij naar de waterkant,
De schepen liggen leeggebrand,
Het water, d’eeuwenoude baan
Voert bloed en roet naar de oceaan.
Daar staat de dood nog op de brug,
Een zwarte schaduw, recht van rug.
Och, broeders, hij bleef ongedeerd,
Terwijl uw schim hier langs marcheert.
Links, rechts . . .

Maar als die stad weer is herbouwd
Van staal en glas en steen en hout,
Die kleine wereld is hersteld,
Bolwerk van koopwaar, zee en geld,
Als er gewerkt weer wordt op de asch
Van wie voor kort hier werkend was –
Dan zullen nog bij nieuwe maan
Uw schimmen door de straten gaan.
Links, rechts . . . 

                                    From Landinwaarts, p. 6.

 

Death March
                        For G. Z.

I hardly dare go down that street,
Where glowing rubble stands in the dark.
The wind howls round a ruined top,
A shrill flame hisses and flares up,
Illuminating, mockingly,
The remnants of some household goods.
And they who daily gave and took
Found here forever a rough mass grave.
The work of hand and brain and love
Has been extinguished through and through.

I turn towards the waterside,
The boats are burned-out empty shells,
The water, roadstead for ages past
Carries blood and soot down to the sea.
And there stands death still on the bridge,
A blackened shadow, bolt upright.
Ah, brothers, he remained unhurt,
While your shades march along this place.
Left, right . . .

But when this town is built again
With steel and glass and stone and wood,
That little world will be anew
Bastion of money, sea and trade,
When work gets done again on ashes
Of those who worked here not long ago –
Then by the light of a new moon
Your shades will go about these streets.
Left, right . . . 
 

Clara Eggink, 1906 – 1991, published poems, essays, translations and literary critiques. She was briefly married to Jan Campert from 1936 to 1939. During the war she worked for the publisher A. M. Stols, one of the firms where illegal material was printed and distributed.

 

Anthonie Donker,

Twee minuten stilte
                                     Na tien jaren

Het was niet in de stad,
niet in het drukke verkeer.
Daar waar het al stil was
legde een stilte zich neer,

die dieper was dan zwijgen,
een stilte waarin men weer
van de stervenden het hijgen
kon horen, als weleer.

Het was op de grote weg
van Den Haag naar Amsterdam
waar ik voor jaren fietste
en tussen de kogels kwam.

Daar lag weer diezelfde man
in de greppel, op zijn mond,
die op zoek, voor voedsel thuis,
een dodelijk einde vond.

Het eerst hield een volkwagen stil,
vlak daarna kwam de tweede wagen
tot stilstand, door hoger wil
opgelegd uit die jaren.

Daarachter stopte de truck,
een schrille knars was te horen.
Toen stonden wij, met een ruk,
in de eeuwigheid verloren.

  From Tweeërlei Schriftuur, pp. 17-18.

 

Two minutes silence
                                       After ten years  

It was not in the city,
not in the busy traffic.
There where there was quiet
a silence lay down,

that was deeper than no speech,
a silence in which one could hear
the panting of the dead
just like before.

It was on the main road
from The Hague to Amsterdam
where I rode my bike for years
and landed among the bullets.

There lay again that same man
in the ditch, face down, on his mouth
that, searching for food for home
had found a deadly end.

The first to stop was a volkwagen,
straight away a second car
came to a stop, by a higher will
impelled out of those years.

Behind it came a truck
braking with a screech.
Then we all stood, as if struck
lost in eternity.

 

Anthonie Donker, 1902 – 1965. Lecturer in Dutch literature at the University of Amsterdam, poet, translator, MP for the Labour party. During the war he was dismissed from his university job for taking part in the resistance, imprisoned in Scheveningen in the same prison as the eighteen of the Jan Campert poem. In the resistance literature the prison was called Oranje Hotel. 
The literary journal Critisch Bulletin which Donker started and edited was shut down in 1941.
The two minutes silence refers to the countrywide remembrance held on May 4. From 6 pm all flags are lowered to half-mast, shops close at 7, from 7.45 church bells are rung, till one minute before 8, then at eight the whole country falls silent for two minutes. Trains and buses stop, cars are expected to stop though with motorways and international traffic that is not really possible any more. After the two minutes the military tattoo is sounded, often a poem is read, wreaths are laid, speeches made. The next day there are celebrations everywhere.  

 

 

 Sources.

Aafjes, Bertus. Dichters van Dezen Tijd, ed. D.A.M. Binnendijk. Amsterdam: P.N. van Kampen, 1954.

Campert, Jan. Verzamelde Gedichten 1922 – 1943. The Hague: A.A.M Stols, 1947.

Campert, Remco. Alle Bundels Gedichten. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1976.

          ‘’                   Scenes in Hotel Morandi. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1983.

Cramer, Rie. In Geuzenliedboek 1940 – 1945. Eds. M.G. Schenk and H.M. Mos. Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 1975. Online edition 2008, accessed 28 March 2015, geuzenliedboek

Donker, Anthonie. In Tweeërlei Schriftuur, ed. Alfred Kossmann. Amsterdam, Querido, 1958.

Eggink, Clara. Landinwaarts. The Hague, Stols, 1941.

Kouwenaar, Gerrit. 100 Gedichten. Amsterdam: Querido, 1969.

Lucebert. Alfabel. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1955, rpt. 1979.

       ‘’          Van de Afgrond en de Luchtmens, Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1953, rpt. 1978.

Rodenko, Paul. Orensnijder Tulpensnijder. Amsterdam: De Harmonie, 1975.

Schuur, Koos. Gedichten 1040 – 1960. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1963.

M. Vasalis, in Voor wie dit leest: Proza en poëzie van 1920 tot heden. Ed. Adriaan Morriën. Amsterdam: Querido, 1959.

Warmond, Ellen. Naar Men Zegt. The Hague: Bert Bakker, 1955.



Some of the cartoon and poster images mentioned in the introduction, from websites like geheugenvannederland.nl and at http://www.verzetsmuseum.org/jongeren/klein_verzet 


Germans used to take people’s bicycles for themselves, but not with this kind of modification.


On the advice from the allies, a railway strike was held in September 1944 in support of the allied landings near Arnhem.
The landing failed but the trains stopped running. Germany claimed they needed the trains to transport food (there was
a huge shortage). The text says: Not for our food but to take away people, so spoormannen, railway workers, houdt vol,
don’t give in.

 

 

No explanation needed.

 

‘Meld je niet’ means Don’t register for an ID card.
The lower text says: Don’t let them get you, by thunder,
Be a man and dive under.

 

 

Photo from 1944 when food was getting very scarce and rations provided ersatz food. The caption
on the poster says: Don’t shoot any Germans dead, make them eat ersatz food for 20 years.
‘Mof’ is the Dutch equivalent of Boche
.



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