The Skeleton of Vilna

Bones with ribs

poking into the ashes.

The flesh of a city,

tendons of millions of organizations-

neighborhood, Jewish, and political-

bustling markets, street gossip and scurrying people,

stripped away to leave the buildings

disconnected.

.

The decay was not sudden,

but systematic.

First came the Russians,

flesh wounds

Then came the Germans,

is this infected?

Then came the ghettos,

everything festers

And then for some, and the city,

came death.

.

Flesh wounds

Just keep functioning, no need to move out,

Infection

It’s too late, people are disappearing,

Festering

Families separated,

Survivors?

A job with the Gestapo.

.

The skeleton’s flesh has slid off

into camps and death pits,

but the Gestapo’s former worker

no longer suffers delusions

that the flesh wounds are not mortal.

.

A skeleton stands

where once the Jewish community

breathed.


This poem was originally written for the Chapman University Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest 2017. It was inspired by the testimony of Beba Leventhal and David Labkovski’s Marketplace Scene.

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