Majdanek: Winter 1941-1942

Jane Yolen

This was the lethal winter
when men were shot for being cold,
for being slow, for sneezing, for freezing,
the edge of the camp grounds a spoiled land
littered with dead bodies. When prisoners fell
the bullets inside them were like ice pellets.
That killing, while pleasant to the guards,
was much too slow and labored.
The next year they had no such fun.
The Black Path lead to the ovens,
where Death played chess
on the breastbones of the Jews.
Do not tell me no one smelled that evil
as it rose into the air like smoke.
The people who lived close by
could tell piriogi cooking, and cabbage.
They knew when the neighbors grilled kielbasa,
whether it was pork, beef, veal, lamb.
Surely they could smell the burning of human flesh
and only refused to report it
because it was sweet in their noses.


Jane Yolen is the author of over 370 published books including 10 books of poetry for adults. She has won two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, the Jewish Book Award, the Kerlan Award, the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, a nomination for the National Book Award, as well as six honorary doctorates. She was the first writer to win a New England Public Radio’s Arts & Humanities Award. Despite her many awards, she has this warning: Don’t go chasing fame. Just write. One of her awards set her good coat on fire.