Panning for Gold
(A poem from a poem)

Written after reading the poem, “Holocaust,” by Charles Reznikoff, Jewish-American narrative poet, 1894-1976. (“Holocaust,” written in 1975, was based on details taken from the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials. Trained as a lawyer and a journalist, Reznikoff’s poetry “presents facts with straightforward immediacy without commenting on them directly.” I could not help but comment upon the story he told in this portion of his poem, where he describes a group of Jewish inmates being forced to exhume a mass grave and dispose of the bones by grinding them and spreading them on a nearby field. Before they did, though, they were forced to sift the crushed bones of the victims to find any gold from their teeth.)

Slaves, these speculators,
calves hugged by bony mud
fingers wrapped like bread ties
around shovels
marked to transport
one last time—
earth to earth,
grave to field.
Nazi grinding machines
pulverize at last
these bones that grew
in Mother’s womb

now from this tomb
brought out and crushed.

They sprinkle these upon the earth
like so much dust
but first Jews must
sieve fast for gold.

look close! that Piece!
that Golden Shine!
from teeth now scattered,
left behind.

© 1/31/97, Lois E. Olena

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