“Riddle” by William Heyen

My class starts tomorrow and students have to write blog entries about certain material and add them to the class blog page. I thought that I would share what I chose to write on and my thoughts concerning it.

“Riddle” by William Heyen

From Belsen a crate of gold teeth,
from Dachau a mountain of shoes,
from Auschwitz a skin lampshade.
Who killed the Jews?

Not I, cries the typist,
not I, cries the engineer,
not I, cries Adolf Eichmann,
not I, cries Albert Speer.

My friend Fritz Nova lost his father –
a petty official had to choose.
My friend Lou Abrahms lost his brother.
Who killed the Jews?

David Nova swallowed gas,
Hyman Abrahms was beaten and starved.
Some men signed their papers,
and some stood guard,

and some herded them in,
and some dropped the pellets,
and some spread the ashes,
and some hosed the walls,

and some planted the wheat,
and some poured the steel,
and some cleared the rails,
and some raised the cattle.

Some smelled the smoke,
some just heard the news.
Were they Germans? Were they Nazis?
Were they human? Who killed the Jews?

The stars will remember the gold,
the sun will remember the shoes,
the moon will remember the skin.
But who killed the Jews?

What first caught my eye was the poem “Riddle” by William Heyen. I read it through several times and thought to myself for some length afterwards. I tried to grasp the word choice such as, “herding.” I attempted to comprehend the use of specific names that made everything that much more pointed and real. I strove to understand the decision to include the stars, moon and sun. I sought to take in the effect that his use of repetition had on the voice of the poem and its readers.

With all of that said, the line that had me thinking hardest was the line, “were they human,” while answering the repeated question of, “who killed the Jews?” I took from it that Heyen was boldly stating that a lot of people killed the Jews and not just the Nazi German Party. Heyen made it clear that anyone who had anything to do with it including hearing about what was happening, smelling the dead bodies, holding the door open for the Jews being sent through the doors and those who cleaned up afterwards all killed the Jews.

In short, the poem “Riddle” had the most significant effect on me. The poem planted itself in the back of my mind with no signs of being pulled from that spot. Now that I have had time to write out my thoughts and ponder its words with academic intent maybe I will be able to move on. I will just have to wait and see.


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