For Holocaust Remembrance Day

A Reminder, for International Holocaust Remembrance Day
January 27, the 73rd Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

auschwitz ramp
On the Arrival Ramp at Auschwitz, Minutes from Death

We Are Almost Gone

Released at last
from the dark cattle cars,
the nightmare past
we hoped. Ours,
a futile grope for ended dreams.
The sun is bright,
the blue sky hurts our eyes,
and dark smoke, still beyond our sight,
where horror down a narrow pathway lies.
Look at us! The almost dead.
You cannot hear the muffled cries,
the silent miseries of dread.
The few short minutes left
before the gas, bereft, bereft
of hope. Our waning minutes pass
without time; eternity already lies
before us: blue skies,
and keening chorus.

© 27 June 2017 Walter William Melnyk
All Rights Reserved.

Tisha B’Av is July 22nd


Tisha B AvTisha B’Av is the ninth day of the month of Av, which falls during the month of July or August. This day of mourning and fasting traditionally commemorates national calamities, such as the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem (by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. and by the Roman general Vespasian in 70 C.E.), the fall of Bar Kokhba’s fortress in 138 C.E., and the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492. Some scholars believe the origins of the holiday lie in primitive people’s fear of the scorching sun at the height of the summer.

Traditional observance of Tisha B’Av focuses on fasting, prayer, reading the Book of Lamentations, and observing prohibitions against certain activities such as getting a haircut, wearing freshly pressed clothing, drinking alcohol, and, in some communities, eating meat.

Humanistic Jews do not observe Tisha B’Av by looking forward to the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rather, they use this time for reflection and to affirm the power of human connection in times of need and tragedy.

The picture above is of the burning of the Olomouc Synagogue on March 15, 1939, in the first months of the Holocaust.  Observe Tisha B’Av this year with a remembrance of the plight of European Jews in World War II.  Resolve to engage in Tikkun Olam, Repairing of the World, to insure that such horror is never forgotten, and will never happen again.

Pavel’s Violin is now Available

Pavel’s Violin is now available on Amazon

All Proceeds go to the US Holocaust Museum.

Pavel Cover FrontList Price: $24.95
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
466 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1539335221 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1539335224
BISAC: Fiction / Historical / General
From 1942 – 1945, Paul (Pavel, in Czech) was a prisoner in the Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camps. He survived the camps, and the final Death March from Auschwitz. Pavel had been a violinist before the war, and after his escape his brother found a “not so new but nice” violin for Pavel to play. Pavel lost many members of his family in the camps, but a few survived. A descendent of one of those survivors inherited the violin and, many years later, became my violin teacher. This is how I came to play “Pavel’s Violin.” The violin itself is a beautiful Jakob Stainer model, built perhaps in the mid-1800s. In the novel, it is made by Stainer in 1670, and we trace its journey from Stainer’s home in Absam, Austria, to the Prince-Bishop’s Palace in Kromeriz, Moravia, to the Jewish community in the Moravian countryside, to the great synagogue at Olomouc, to Terezin, then Auschwitz, and finally to the Carpathian Mountain, where it finally becomes “Pavel’s Violin.” Along the way, the Violin is a metaphor for the human condition: our joys, fears, sorrows, hatred, loves, and our hope for a good future.

“Pavel’s Violin” is a work of historical fiction, a genre peculiar enough to be seriously misunderstood. Historical fiction is not literal history that has been fictionalized to the point that its details are not reliable news accounts of what happened. It is fiction inspired by historical events in order to convey truths which are deeper than literal. Historical fiction, at its best, serves as a metaphor that can draw a reader into a story as a first hand participant, rather than as a consumer of facts. This is what I have tried to do with the story of “Pavel’s Violin.” I hope you will not just learn about what happened, but that you will become part of the story, yourself. That you will stand beside Jakob atop Kartellerjochl, with Pavel in a cattle car transport on its way to Auschwitz, with Nurse Ilse and her children as Zyklon B pellets fall among them in the gas chamber. And more. I hope you will not only hear the Violin, but will experience the playing of it. The sound of its music under your left ear. The vibrations of the wood upon your chin and shoulder. Most of all, I hope you, too, will realize the compulsion of the story, and the obligation to recount it, in your own way, to others.

A Holocaust Remembrance Poem for a Light-Hearted Family Meal


So we are having some non-Jewish friends over to share our Shabbat meal tonight, in our spirit of “Shabbat-Salon.” But it is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was looking for a poem that could honor the Day, yet not in such a graphic way that it would cast a pall over an otherwise joyful dinner. I could not find one, of course, and realized the horror of even trying. So, in that spirit, I wrote my own poem about people who should never be forgotten, no matter how inconvenient the memory:

I Could Not Find a Pleasant Poem

I could not find a poem today
(he said) to use here, in our quiet home.
I could not find a gentle verse to say
what needed to be said –
what no one can say
in a pleasant way
about the unpleasant dead.
I could not find a courteous
and gentle verse
that would not drop the pall of curse
upon a pleasant night,
that we might mourn the millions dead,
yet keep them out of sight.

(C) William Melnyk, 1/27/2017


Holocaust, A Poem

by Barbara Sonek

We played, we laughed
we were loved.
We were ripped from the arms of our
parents and thrown into the fire.
We were nothing more than children.
We had a future. We were
going to be lawyers, rabbis, wives, teachers, mothers.
We had dreams, then we had no hope.
We were taken away in the dead of night
like cattle in cars, no air to breathe smothering,
crying, starving, dying.
Separated from the world to be no more.
From the ashes, hear our plea.
This atrocity to mankind can not happen again.
Remember us, for we were the children
whose dreams and lives were stolen away.