More Ilse Weber

I was going to move on to another topic, or not blog at all today, but then the New Yorker came.

James Wood’s review of a book titled “HHhH” in this recent issue (“Broken Record”, May 21, international delivery takes a week) recently caught my eye, particularly the mention of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s right-hand thug, and the brutal reprisal that followed — the annihilation of the Czech village of Lidice (or Liditz, in German); the men were executed, the women taken to concentration camps, the children shuffled around briefly before they were all, aside from a few who were taken for “Germanization”, gassed at Chelmno.

Ilse Weber, in Theresienstadt, heard of the massacre. She heard this news because it arrived with the herd of sheep from the demolished village, rounded up and brought there, to Theresienstadt.

One of her poems is titled Die Schafe von Liditz, The Sheep of Lidice. (Scroll down for an translation into English.)


Flockige, gelbweiße Schafe trotten die Straße entlang.
Zwei Hirtinnen folgen der Herde, durch die Dämmerung tönt ihr Gesang.
Es ist ein Bild voller Frieden und doch bleibst du, Eilender, stehn,
als fühltest du Hauch allen Todes grausig vorübergehn.
Flockige, gelbweiße Schafe, sie sind der Heimat so fern,
verbrannt sind ihre Ställe, getötet sind ihre Herrn.

Ach, alle Männer des Dorfes, sie starben den gleichen Tod.
Ein kleines Dorf in Böhmen, und soviel Unglück und Not.
Verschleppt die fleißige Frauen, die sorgsam die Herde betreut,
verschollen die fröhlichen Kinder, die sich an den Lämmern gefreut,
zerstört die kleinen Häuser, in denen der Friede gewohnt,
ein ganzes Dorf vernichtet, das Vieh nur gnädig verschont.

Das sind die Schafe von Liditz und trefflich am Platze hier,
in der Stadt der Heimatlosen das heimatlose Getier.
Umschlossen von einer Mauer, durch grausamen Zufall gesellt,
das gequälteste Volk der Erde und die traurigste Herde der Welt.
Die Sonne ist untergegangen, der letzte Strahl versinkt,
und irgendwo bei den Kasernen ein jüdisches Lied erklingt.

Fluffy, yellow-white sheep trot along the road.
Two shepherdesses follow the herd, their song carried in the twilight.
It is a picture of peace, and yet you, hurrying one, stop,
as if you felt the breath of Death pass over you.
Fluffy, yellow-white sheep, so far from their home,
their stalls burned down, their owners killed.

Ah, all the village men died the same death.
A little village in Bohemia, and so much calamity and distress.
Deported, the industrious women who cared for the herd,
Missing, the happy children who found joy in the lambs,
Destroyed, the little houses in which peace reigned,
an entire village demolished, only the animals spared.

Those are the sheep of Lidice, brought here to this place,
homeless animals in the city of the homeless.
Penned inside the wall, brought here by barbarous events,
the most afflicted people on Earth, and the saddest herd in the world.
The sun has gone down, its last rays sink away,
and somewhere in the Barracks a Jewish song sounds.

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