Bearing Witness to the Holocaust: Edith Bruck’s Poem, “Pretty Soon”

Edith Bruck, a concentration camp survivor, was a filmmaker, playwright, and poet. After the war, she lived in Israel and Italy. This is her poem, “Pretty Soon”:

Pretty soon

when people hear a quiz show expert

talk about Auschwitz

they’ll ask themselves if they would have guessed

that name

they’ll comment on the current champion

who never gets dates wrong

and always guesses the number of dead.

Yawning sleepily

they’ll say maybe they would have preferred

Greco-Roman history

to these Jews

who have always gotten themselves talked about:

they really attract persecution.

(Source: Against Forgetting: 20th Century Poetry of Witness, Ed. Carolyn Forche, 1993, p. 389)

Edith Bruck’s poem, in its ironic meditation on the seeming conspiracy of time, distance—and even television culture—to make Auschwitz even more horrifying to contemplate, recalls Camus’ notion of the absurb, as well as Auden’s poem, Musee de Beaux Arts, in which a tragedy unfolds (the fall of Icarus from heaven) in the midst of the world’s general indifference and day-to-day mundane business and concerns:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. 
  

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Bearing Witness to the Holocaust: Edith Bruck’s Poem, “Pretty Soon”

  1. Philip Balma says:

    Edith Bruck is still alive, 78 years old. I personally hope she lives forever.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Philip:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    —Santi

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