5: Poem, “You, Onlookers” by Nelly Sachs, with audio recording.
Nelly Sachs was born in Berlin in 1891 and was a well-established and well-respected writer in Germany long before Adolph Hitler came to power. She remained in Germany until 1940, a witness to Kristallnacht and the demise of German Jewry, at which point she immigrated with her mother to Sweden. The majority of poems by Sachs focus on the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust, which she read about from her position of safety in Sweden. The poem “You, Onlookers” addresses those who were neither perpetrators nor collaborators but who stood by and did nothing to stop the genocide.
Suggested Activity: Listen to the Sachs poem in the original German, and then read the English translation aloud with students. Then ask: What feelings, thoughts, and questions does this poem evoke? Who is being addressed in this poem? How does the Sachs poem "speak" to “Written in Pencil”?
Sources: "You Onlookers" from O The Chimneys by Nelly Sachs. Translation copyright (c)1967, renewed 1995 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
"Ihr Zuschauenden", from: Nelly Sachs, Werke. Kommentierte Ausgabe in vier Bänden. Herausgegeben von Aris Fioretos, Band 1: Gedichte 1940-1950. Herausgegeben von Matthias Weichelt. © All rights reserved by and controlled through Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin.
The audio recording was made by Michael Yashinsky at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA, 2017.