Hilda Prays at Birkenau

I’d die a thousand deaths for you, dear God.

I am twenty and quite fair enough
to look at but that’s no help to me
while I am being thrashed.

They strap my fragile body to a chair;
my head hangs almost to the floor,
the cold and black cemented floor.

I’d die a thousand deaths for you, dear God.
I’d die a thousand deaths.

I hear the whooshing sound of the leather
belt before it hits my naked bony back
and coils itself against my skin.

Tight, tight, I grasp the chair’s thin legs
and squeeze my nails into the wood.
O let the lashes come; I will not scream.

I’d die a thousand deaths for you, dear God.
I’d die a thousand deaths.

Thanks be to God, there’s no metal buckle
on the belt now swishing through the air;
far better is it if no buckle slices up my skin.

I count black leather boots around the chair,
clench my teeth, and bite my tongue as lashes
slash and tear into my skin.

I’d die a thousand deaths for you, dear God,
I’d die a thousand deaths – but give me
first the strength to last this out.

My teeth are clenched. “Come, come, Jew whore,”
he shouts in rhythm with the blows.
“Let’s see how smart your mouth is now.”

Ja. Ja. Herr Kommandant.” I whisper it,
respectfully as I can. I don’t want him angry.
Just a few more lashes and he’s done.

I’d die a thousand deaths for you, dear God.

I will not let him know my pain, dear God,
I will survive it. “Get out of here, you scum,
before I kill you,” he shouts at me,

and, as I raise my racked, torn body
and weakly turn to take my leave, he asks
“Where is your Jewish God now, mein Fräulein?”

The fool doesn’t see my God is with me, saving me again.
Blessed are you, God, who has allowed me to live,
though I would gladly die a thousand deaths for you.

(3/15/09)

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