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Halina Birenbaum, part 2

Halina Birenbaum Speaks Out


Halina Birenbaum

 Judih: Halina! I have so many questions.

Halina: I don’t have the time to answer a lot of questions or write volumes of responses. I’ve written so much already.

Judih: Yes, I understand. I know you’ve written a great deal and I’ve read some of your writing. I’m interested in you as a poet: how writing helped you survive. How it helped your soul.

Halina: I didn’t write in the camps. I wrote only once, when I was 11,  about the flames and the horror around me. I ripped off a piece of a cement sack  and  found a pencil nearby and I wrote. But after that, it was impossible. Impossible in the camps.

I wrote in the ghetto in Warsaw. I wrote stories. And I read. I read books and studied with my brother.

I read books about another way of being and that’s what gave me the strength to go on. Knowing there was another world, and that the world could be the way it was written in books.

That’s what kept me going. Through all the waiting.

Waiting. Waiting for another day. Another scrap of food. When would they bring food. Waiting for the hunger to pass. To get through the cold. The conditions were so terrible. And fear.

The fear of death was always there. When would they take me?

My first poem was written as a story. I wrote “The Tears” as a short story and people told me that it was a poem, so that was my first poem.



they say that they are bitter

pungent, they choke, suffocate

they burn eyes, cause wrinkles

everyone is afraid and ashamed of them

they are considered a sign of weakness, effeminacy

an expression of adversity, sickness, mourning

people run away from their sight, hide behind them

for me it is much worse when they are not there

when their source dries out

this means that I am numb

that nothing can move or affect me anymore

that I don’t know how to worry dr how to be glad

that I have given up the fight

that nothing is left to conquer, desire or experience anymore

it means that I don’t care about anybody

and no one cares about me

therefore I am a stone

a living corpse

for me tears are necessary

I have to feel their burning fire under my eyelids

feel their wet warm trace on my face

that cramp in my throat

that shiver in my body

that quickened heart beat before they appear

I have to feel their welcome beneficial warmth

that burning pain of bitterness, indignation or protest

I have to see them in other people’s eyes

like a reflection and a response of their emotions

which are in me and grow in others toward me

for me tears are very precious

they are a cleansing form of life’s evil dust

from mediocrity, weariness, contempt

a rebirth


tears are sincerity, the truth, human sufferings

but also human gladness

tears can show human soul

often hurt, wretched and embittered

but often radiant, rejoiced

never stone hearted

for me tears are necessary to feel alive

to show that I have a heart

and that I am truly a human being

          Herzliya       1987


  (ed.note:”Tears” and other poems are available online at Poetry on the Shoah  )

Then I wrote a great deal and a book was published, Hope is the Last to Die, about 330 poems, and translated into Polish and it’s now in the Auschwitz Museum.

These days, I’m occupied taking care of my husband from six in the morning and I need to go to sleep early in order to wake up early. I’m very tired and I receive so many e-mails that I don’t have time to answer. It’s very difficult. I’m tired and I have no Shabbat.

But tonight in Ashdod, there’s an event being held by Yad Vashem. Children have been rehearsing songs for the Holocaust, in commemoration of International Holocaust Day. They’ve also selected one of my poems to sing. The composer of the music will be there, performing on piano, and I’m invited to attend.

This is a real mission for me to go there, but I must go for these children who’ve worked so hard.

The event is by invitation only, but I’m inviting you if you can attend. (ed. note: Halina offers me a chance to see her, to be with her at a location closer to my home than her city of Herzliya)

Judih: Unfortunately, I have to attend a seminar this evening, but I’ll see if I can make it, afterwards. Thank you, Halina. Thank you for your time. And I hope you enjoy the evening.

Halina’s book: Hope is the Last to Die is available at this site.

What will happen? Will Judih get to Ashdod to hear the concert and one of Halina’s poems set to music and performed by a Children’s choir? (to be continued…)

Halina Birenbaum revisits Auschwitz



4 responses to “Halina Birenbaum, part 2

  1. go!!…by all means…go!!…the seminar can wait…you have a chance to see a national treasure…go!!!

    • talkingnow ⋅

      i didn’t go! But, and this is a big But..! My seminar was a screening of a film of her son and another singer, both of whom are children of Holocaust survivors, and Halina was in the film, telling her tales, radiating energy! It was a superb coincidence – and I loved it.

      & to be continued…

  2. Dr. Bruce H. Jackson
    6193 West Ridge Rd.
    Highland, UT 84004


    Halina Birenbaum

    Dear Halina:

    My family and I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau and were touched in every way by this experience.

    While in the bookshop I came across your book and read it with great passion and interest. I could hardly believe the experiences that took shape in your life.

    I was particularly taken with the amazing woman that was your mother, the strength of both of your brothers, and the connections you made (and lost) between the years of 1939 and 1945. Perhaps no other human being has suffered and triumphed so much in this world. Your misfortunes were as treacherous as your fortunes were glorious.

    Reading about your many encounters with misfortune and seeing you ultimately triumph through these experiences testified to me that you were chosen by God to live and tell your story.

    From all of the biographies and life accounts that I have read in my life, I can hardly recall ANYONE with a greater sense of personal strength and resiliency than you. You are truly a marvel and now an example in my life.

    Thank you for your wonderfully candid account of your life, your trials, and your sufferings. If it be possible that I can ever meet you or to have you sign my book, I would be most grateful.

    Last year I completed my studies at the Harvard Kennedy School and many of my classmates who were Jewish (one of them had all 4 grandparents survive Auschwitz), helped me better understand the cultural, political, and historical struggles that still challenge our world today.

    I wish you all the love, prosperity and joy that you deserve in this life. Your story has compelled me to think about social justice in a different way and to remain steadfast in the rights and dignity of everyone on this Earth.

    Thank you for your profound example.


    Bruce H. Jackson

  3. talkingnow ⋅

    Thank you Bruce for your comment. I have sent it to Halina.
    – judih

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