German Requiem: Poems of the War and the Atonement of a Third Reich Child

by Ted Hirschfield


Mothers and Children Only

She smelled of apples,
And the sun was entangled,
The sun was lost in her hair,
And that's all I remember. . . .
And I bet she thinks of me
As her first child: after
She had her first child —
Proud Prussian girls
Who never panicked,
Balanced at rest
On one hip, one leg
Outward, patiently watching
The ship leave in silence:
A horror film in slow
Motion on a silent screen.
And they are not screaming
In the broken, stuttering film
As the Russians rape them,
En masse, in rotation,
And empty 800-year-old
Barns of their treasure —
My mother gave the gift
Of life again and handed
Me secretly over to her,
Whose life, for one moment,
Was interchangeable with mine.
And I still feel her now,
Hugging me to herself,
Walking quickly up the ship,
Away with me to freedom.



German Requiem recounts the haunting experience of war as seen through a child's eyes, the most vulnerable and impressionable witness to man's inhumanity to man. Each poem is the crystallized image of a particular experience cast into narrative poetic form and impelled by powerful emotion. The poems describe a psychic journey from loss and suffering, through the healing catharsis of art, which transmutes all grief into beauty.


The poet's skill in recreating these emotion-draining memories in language is matched by his honesty of recall. Nothing is melodramatized or faked. The remembering adult does not stylize or sentimentalize what the child saw and felt. This is the human price paid for the resort to evil. This is what a child underwent, and these poems are the understanding that they record. German Requiem is a memorable book.
— Louis D. Rubin, Jr., author of Comic Imagination in America