Page from a poetry book, dated 29 April 1935, owned by the Schönberger family. Several members of the Schönberger family emigrated from Austria in early 1939 and settled in the United States. Photo credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, gift of Julie Klein

Writing is recognized by psychologists as an effective tool to process moments of trauma and to build resilience. In reaction to their diminishing freedoms and prospects, Jewish victims of Nazism also reached for the pen and often used poetry to explore their changing realities. The tone of such poems in the PMJ volumes ranges from pensive and melancholy to trenchant and even humorous. The poems’ authors take up issues of immediate relevance to their circumstances, including emigration, the yellow star, experiences in a camp, and death.

Sample documents
Volume 2  –  document 38
In May 1938 Felice Schragenheim reflects on her job prospects as an immigrant
‘A self-delusion whereby one forgets that our guest appearance in this life is a tragicomedy.’
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Volume 2  –  document 298
On 19 June 1939 Felice Schragenheim writes a poem about forced emigration
‘We no longer travel, at best we are wanderers.’
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Volume 3  –  document 130
Walter Mehring pays tribute to his dead friends in a New Year’s poem, 1940/41
‘But, ah, this wine I sip, tastes of the dead, / Pressed from a vintage, never harvested.’
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Volume 3  –  document 220
A poem, dated 14 September 1941, calls upon Jews to wear the yellow star with trust in God
‘And yet the star is old, though seemingly new-found: / the Maccabee star, every Jew’s star through the ages.’
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Volume 3  –  document 293
In 1940 Bedřich Kolín writes an ironic poem about the ‘advantages’ of being a Jew in the Protectorate
‘Once, as an official, the Jew had tough work, / ‘Good morning!’ he’d say to his boss, a big jerk. / But now, without worries, he carelessly capers, / untroubled by balance sheets, numbers and papers.’
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Volume 5  –  document 26
In a poem dated 31 August 1939, Wilhelm Halberstam describes the life of Jewish refugees in the Netherlands
‘In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, its south part most of all, / You find our folk in massive bands, their means be great or small!’
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Volume 5  –  document 239
In a poem composed in September 1940, the writer Walter Mehring records his experiences in St Cyprien internment camp in the south of France
‘I paused to search the heavens for your face, / And found myself imprisoned in this place.’
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