Verses from a life of anguish

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Gila Landman. File photo
Gila Landman
File photo

For the Sake of the Living and the Dead by Gila Landman. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Charing Cross Press, 2016. 53 pages. $12.

The poems in this collection are painful to read; I can only imagine the soul-wrenching that accompanied their creation.


The anguish that inspired the poetry is palpable, as is the love and longing for relatives whom the writer,  Gila Landman had never met — murdered by the “evil ones,” the Nazis.

Landman was born in 1945 and lived in a displaced persons camp before coming to America in 1947. She was rebbitzen of my synagogue, Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring — as well as a counselor at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy — until 2013 when she and husband, Rabbi Reuben Landman, made aliyah. She died in 2015.

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In, “Cousin,” the second poem in the collection, Landman’s pain is evident:

I was born after the war
to replace the others …
I search for you cousin


enter the forest
alone now
watch the evil ones
drag you
to the clearing
I reach over
to clasp your hand
and pull you away
before the shots are fired

In some poems, Yiddish is coupled with English, especially when she speaks lovingly — and poignantly — of her family, as in “Fremde” (Stranger).

And besides
I knew
Mein Bubbe Fraide
Zaide Mordechai
Tanta Mara Futter David
De ganse mishpocho
Grandparents aunts and uncles
the whole family
kum nisht
kaimal nit tzurich
would never come back

For the Sake of the Living and the Dead does not deal only with Holocaust-related issues. “Losing Aunt Sara” tells of a relative who ran away to the land of Israel as a young woman and died of malaria.  “Roominghouse in the Country, 1954” deals with Landman trying to become an Amerikaneh. And then there is the matter of the warm, safe feelings she had for her parents when she was a girl (“In Our Kitchen”).

But in the final poem in the collection, “For the Sake of the Living and the Dead,” Landman asks the biblical matriarch Rachel: “Weep for the dead who could have lived, Weep for the living who could have died.”

As I said, the poems are difficult to read. I hope the author found the process of writing them therapeutic, bringing her a measure of peace.

For readers, the book serves to disabuse them — once again — of the notion that the Jewish people’s agony ended with the liberation of the Nazi slave labor and death camps.

For the Sake of the Living and the Dead is available from Charing Cross Press, P.O. Box 6052, Ann Arbor, MI 48106.

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