“They came there in the morning –
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Trains coming from all sorts of places in Germany –
Until the Jews numbered thousands.
Here they were searched
And if anybody had more than ten marks
The rest was taken away…”
Charles Reznikoff, pp.3
Almost every person in the world knows something about the Holocaust. It was a period during World War II, because of which more than six million of Jews died.
Adolf Hitler did not know any mercy to Jewish people: he ordered to create numerous camps and put to death all Jews. “For Hitler, Jews represented evil incarnate. Wherever Jews settles, he wrote, they strove for mastery over the host population.” (Fischel 4) Many writers try to represent the horror of those times. Some of them use interesting details to help the reader plunge into the history.
Some writers describe the events in general and underline how unfair all those actions of Hitler’s were. The idea of the Holocaust and the horror people lived during World War II ties closely three works of different writers: A Dead Child Speaks by Nelly Sachs, Babii Yar by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and After Auschwitz by Anne Sexton.
These three writers, Nelly Sachs, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and Anne Sexton are the representatives of three different countries, which were involved into the process of the Holocaust somehow. Sachs is a representative of German literature, Sexton is an American writer, and Yevtushenko is a writer from Russia. Their works are three different positions, three different opinions on one and the same event.
Nelly Sachs in her A Dead Child Speaks tries to individualize millions who died during the Holocaust. Instead of analyzing the mystery and reasons of why the Nazis used such terrible methods to lead other people, she concentrates on certain universal themes and metaphors. “Someone raised the knife of parting” (Sachs)
It is not an ordinary knife, which each woman has in the kitchen. It is a symbol of something that separate people forever. The Nazis did not pay attention whether they kill children, young women, or old men. People had no distinctions in age or sex. The only point that played an important role was a race. If a person is a Jew, he/she did not have the right to live.
At the end of the poem, the author repeats once again the presence of parting knife. “As I was led to death/ I still felt in the last moment/ The unsheathing of the great knife of parting” (Sachs) Such literature device as repetition helps the reader concentrate on one concrete detail. The word-combination “knife of parting” appears at the beginning and at the end to underline the hopeless that something may change.
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After Auschwitz by the American writer, Anne Sexton, presents another picture of the events during the Holocaust. In this work, the author describes her own experience, her feelings about the brutality of camps, which found and killed all Jewish people. “Each day/ each Nazi/ took, at 8:00 A.M., a baby/ and sautéed him for breakfast/ in his frying pan” (Sexton) The last two lines is a kind of metaphor, which underlines how crass all humankind is.
In this poem, the writer tells about her hate for all males, the Nazi leaders. The major point of this poem is its last line. Many sources do not present this line. However, it exists and underlines the very sense of the story. “I say those things aloud/ I beg the Lord not to hear” (Sexton)
However, “on the other side of the ocean, the American writer, unless he actually participated in the military liberation of the concentration camps, had no direct contact with the life and death struggles of the victim of Nazism.” (Ezrahi 176) This is why the work by Yevgeny Yevtushenko Babii Yar represents more clearly those events and presents the real terror that happened during the times of the war.
“No monument stands over Babii Yar/A drop sheer as a crude gravestone/I am afraid.” (Yevtushenko) From the very first lines, the author tries to present how terrible the situation is; and he, as a viewer cannot hide his fear. Babii Yar is a ravine not far from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, where the Nazi killed more than 70,000 Jews in several days. Many Jews got the order to dig the ravine and place all sick and killed people there, and then the Nazi killed the rest, who were alive.
One of the thematic thread that unites these three works of the writers from different countries is their attempt to reproduce how cruel and unfair the actions of the Nazi were. Nelly Sachs, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and Anne Sexton do not mention the term Holocaust in their works. The Holocaust, the judgment of the Holocaust and its consequences is an enthymeme that is inherent to these works.
It is so terrible, when people do not have the right to make the decisions or just the right to live. The times of war always remind people of such unfairness and cruelty. The writers’ major purpose is to describe all war events and present them using numerous literature techniques, which help to concentrate readers’ attention on the necessary details.
Ezrahi, Sidra, D. By Words Alone: The Holocaust in Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
Fischel, Jack. The Holocaust. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.
Reznikoff, Charles. Holocaust. David R. Godine Publisher, 2007.
Schilb, John and Clifford John. Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005.