Poet Jennifer Franklin wrote this haunting poem, based on photo (below) of an unknown mother and daughter, from The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Like all the other photos in the book, this photo was found in Auschwitz-Birkenau after liberation, but remained virtually unknown until many years later.
Jennifer Franklin explains:
“One Photograph” was written in response to this heart-wrenching photo of a mother and daughter who were murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, seen in Ann Weiss’ book,
The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
They hold nothing but each other. Fixed
like this forever, mother and daughter—
their love survives, testament to life before
God’s great silence. No one alive knows
their names or will. Maybe it is wrong for me
to mourn them. But I put what remains in a small
pewter frame next to my dead grandmother
and her sister. When you rest your hands
on my shoulders, I think of them—the mother
in her housecoat, blossoming roses, the girl
in her swimsuit, tummy round and innocent.
In the cold cattle car, they had no nest
but each other. Human cries around them
drowned out owls in autumn, smothered
everything but stars that watched them suffer.
I hope they were together when they died—
that their eyes were the last of what they saw
in this fallen world. Even in the thick darkness
of my living room, I see them: embracing,
always almost kissing.
This poem is included in the anthology, Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland (2016), which collects the work of forty-three award-winning writers who explore maternal landscapes. Spanning the globe, these intimate and honest narratives cross borders and define crossroads that are personal and political, old and new. Published by Demeter Press, founded in 2006, this independent feminist press publishes literature on mothering, reproduction, sexuality, and family.
Jennifer Franklin, poet, is Co-Editor of Slapering Hol Press, and Program Director of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center 300 Riverside Drive / Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591 www.writerscenter.org