I sprint across the endless gap
why is he
so far away?
– they smash –
through empty space
– with nothing here
and nothing there
no wall between us
no one to stop us –
but I can’t help thinking
I’m not going to make it,
I’ll take these last few steps,
and something’s going to stop this,
wake me up and
and I couldn’t take it
but then I’m against his heartbeat;
his arms wind around me,
It’s him, his embrace,
his ragged breath in my ear,
his fingers curling in my hair
a snowflake breath upon my tears,
and a scar upon my heart
– replete and sweet –
on every beat
My husband hadn’t come home, and I knew something was wrong.
I found out he’d been taken, so I wandered out, lost; I came here with bread packets and questions, my fingers trembling, my legs unsteady. Is he inside? Hungry? Scared?
My ragged breath draws whorls in the frigid air. My knuckles go white. Other women mirror my own terror; they stare up at the same windows–
Because he’s not the only one. They’ve taken them all: snatched them off the streets and from armaments factories where they worked in forced labor. Stuffed them into furniture trucks. Not allowed a farewell, an embrace, not a kiss – just a fist if they resisted.
Some were already put on the trains.
Now soldiers with machine guns stand between us and the door. Our husbands are beyond those walls, and we want them back. Give them back.
But the guards aim their guns – their fingers on the triggers, so close. They shout, Clear the street or we’ll shoot! Soldiers without mercy.
And we flee, dispersed into side streets and crouched behind buildings, our lungs heaving, our breath puffing on the air.
But we come out again – our feet lead us back, and our hearts, because those guns, these walls, this air all separate us from the men inside for whom we’ve endured everything, been ostracized for staying married to. We’ve fought to protect them, survived reduced rations, near starvation, exposure to air raids, hatred, contempt, betrayal, petty humans, petty cruelties, and few kindnesses.
So I dare you to threaten me – and see if fear will drive me away, as if it’s a stranger when I live inside it every day, live inside it in a way you can never know, because my love is stronger than fear, and we will not go home to empty houses, to empty beds that will prove we have given up the fight and lost the only battle worth waging – a battle we have waged for years. For standing by our husbands, we have been ousted from our families, shunned by our friends, tormented by our neighbors, oppressed by our leaders.
But now I rub shoulders with my sisters in sorrow, and we will not bow down; we will not give in, our determination and anguish a tangle of hot breath and hope on the icy air. We will chant until our voices grow hoarse, stand here until our ankles ache. We will not budge while you threaten death and balance your finger on the trigger, shout imminent death in our ears, and aim your weapons at our hearts.
Go ahead and aim those guns and shout your threats. We will endure, out here in the cold, in the snow, in the breath of winter, in the dark of night, in the rose of dawn, in the face of fear.
Because we stand with the power of love.
So shoot, you murderers.
The above story is based on an actual protest that took place in February 1943 in Berlin, Germany. It seemed relate to the poem I chose for this week (which was adapted from an actual scene at the end of Under A Caged Sky when Anza is reunited with the boy she loves. I always thought it sounded a bit like a poem, so, yeah, there it is as a poem 🙂 )
Here is the true story of the Berlin protest, told partly in the words of this article:
During ‘the most brutal chapter of the expulsion of Jews in Berlin’, the remaining Jews in Berlin (most of them employed in armament factories or married to German women) were taken ‘in preparation for massive deportations to Auschwitz’ because Hitler was ‘offended’ so many Jews still remained in Berlin. It was ‘the beginning of the end for about 8,000 of the 10,000 Berlin Jews [who would] end up shortly in the ovens of Auschwitz’.
The German women married to these men came looking for them and ended up in Rosenstraße, where their husbands (and some children) were being held, and there they ended up staging a protest that lasted day and night for a week.
‘A few salvos from a machine gun could have wiped the women off the square,’ the article states, but ‘Again and again they were scattered, and again and again they advanced, massed together, and called for their husbands, who heard them and took hope.’
Then, a week into the protest, ‘”The SS trained machine guns on us: ‘If you don’t go now, we’ll shoot.’ But by now we couldn’t care less. We screamed ‘you murderers!’ and everything else. We bellowed. We thought that now, at last, we would be shot. Behind the machine guns a man shouted something-maybe he gave a command. I didn’t hear it, it was drowned out. But then they cleared out and the only sound was silence. That was the day it was so cold that the tears froze on my face.”‘
The Jews were released. And they remained in Berlin – they weren’t taken again, and they survived the war.
The article goes on to say ‘The implications of this protest are that mass, public and nonviolent acts of noncooperation by non-Jewish Germans on behalf of German Jews could have slowed or even stopped the Nazi genocide of German Jews.’ Because ‘…when the (non-Jewish) German populace protested nonviolently and en masse, the Nazis made concessions. When Germans protested for Jews, Jews were saved.’ And ‘…if Germans had taken note of the women on the Rosenstraße and imitated their actions of mass civil disobedience. Perhaps they did not do so because they were used to thinking that neither women, nor nonviolent actions, could be politically powerful.’
Some sources say the Jews detained at Rosenstraße weren’t actually meant to be deported at that time, so the women’s protest wasn’t the actual reason they were released, but there is one irrefutable fact: they were never sent, not even later. If they hadn’t protested… well.
The story of the protest got me to thinking about how this is relevant today, because so many people don’t even stand up for injustice or for causes that need to be defended because they feel problems are too big for a single person.
And they are right.
It’s only a peaceful protest by the majority that can stop injustice, by a crap-ton of people.
That starts with a single individual.
A single individual saying ‘I stand for that’.
Then another saying ‘I stand with you’.
And another saying ‘I, too’.
And another, another, another…
It starts at a local level and builds momentum until it is unstoppable – like the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia. The masses endured until one spark brought them all out, and then no one could stop it, not even the Communists.
Our power to make a change comes in our sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers rising up and uniting in solidarity, making our voices heard and making our governments listen, and that happens with one single step: by each person standing up and saying ‘I care.’
As the memorial done by Ingeborg Hunzinger commemorating the Rosenstraße protest says:
“Die Kraft des Zivilen Ungehorsams und die Kraft der Liebe bezwingen die Gewalt der Diktatur”
“The power of civil disobedience and the power of love overcome the violence of the dictatorship”
What do you love today?
Thanks for reading 🙂 As usual, I’m posting links to petitions below for anyone who would like to stand up at least in a small way for endangered animals and to keep our air and water clean.
For anyone wanting to read more about Rosenstraße, there is a book written about it.
As to anyone interested in updates on my progress with my books, it’s the same as last week, but Cascade’s story (now called We’re the Bloodstained) is with the lady who is going to assess it (then I can send it to beta readers finally, yay)!
Petitions you can sign to try in a small way to help make the world a better place:
- Petition to President Obama to take arctic and atlantic drilling off the table for good
- President Obama: Safeguard our Environment before Donald Trump Takes Office
- Greenpeace to President Obama: Revoke the Permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline! Stand With the Standing Rock Sioux
- Declare Standing Rock a national monument
- Save snow leopards petition (their pelts are being sold on illegal markets)
- Stop the slaughter of tigers by poachers
- Seismic testing can harm whales and dolphins
- No more money for wars