The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 15 no. 2


Wladyslaw Szlengel

It is Time

Translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter


It is time! High time!
How long the day of reckoning frightened us!
We have enough of prayers and penance.
Today You will stand before our tribunal
And humbly await a verdict.
We will hurl at Your heart the tremendous stone
Of a blasphemous, terrible, bloody accusation.
With an ax’s sharp edge, the blade of a sword
It will tear the sky like a tower of Babel
And up there in the terrifying interstellar silence,
You, the Almighty accused,
Will listen to every one of our words,
How the chosen people indicts You.
There is no absolution! No absolution!!!
That once long ago in ancient times,
You delivered us from Egypt to our own land ——
This will change nothing. Nothing!
No longer will we forgive You for delivering
Us into the hands of assassins,
We who were Your faithful children for centuries.
With Your name on our lips each of us died
In the circuses of Caesar, of Nero,
On the crosses of the Romans, the pyres of Spain,
Whipped, insulted and scorned.
And You delivered us to the Cossacks
Who tore Your holy law into shreds.
For torture in the ghetto and the specter of the gallows,
For death in Treblinka, bent under the whip,
We the degraded, we the exhausted,
We will pay You back! We will pay You back!
You will no longer escape Your end ——
When we bring You to the place of execution
You won’t be able to bribe the guardian of the showers
With a shining, hundred-dollar gold piece of the sun.
And when the executioner prods You forward,
Drives and crams You into the steam chamber
Sealing the hermetic lid behind You,
The hot steam will begin to suffocate, suffocate
And You will cry out, You will want to flee.
When the torture is finished and the agony of death
They will drag You and cast You into a hideous pit,
They will tear away Your stars —— the gold teeth in Your jaw ——
Then burn You.
             And You will be ash.

Warsaw, the ghetto, December 1942