Elsa, Pittsburgh 1937
My husband’s great-aunt comes to visit her brother.
Paints watercolors, pastoral scenes of trees, grass, rounded hills.
A wash of green and brown and blue.
They are the size of postcards, signed in her young script.
Her brother cannot convince her to stay.
She is an assimilated Jew, a good German, her words precise.
Perhaps she goes to synagogue on High Holy Days.
Perhaps she remembers a prayer or two.
I am lost in Yad Vashem’s website, scrolling
digital collections, archives, The Hall of Names.
There is my grandmother’s maiden name, Klaff,
My husband’s grandmother’s name, Astruc.
A few Bacharachs.
I don’t know if any of them are relatives.
Spiraling deeper, I move to the US Holocaust Museum site,
type in my mother’s family: Naftelberg, Yarofsky,
then my father’s, Kobre, find one, perhaps a relative.
I don’t know what to do with any of this.
My husband and I wander the Marais, old Jewish quarter built on a swamp.
Cobblestone streets, undistinguished buildings. Before us, Memorial de la Shoah.
We enter between walls carved with names and birthdates
of 76,000 French Jews deported. Astruc, Bacharach.
Danger’s pervasive scent lingers. A distant sun shines from blue sky,
sparks off names as if they still burn.
Elsa, Berlin 1938
Her room is tidy, as she prefers. Pale blue walls, embroidered rug centered between
desk and easel. Paned windows behind lace curtains let in lamplight from the street.
As she prepares canvas, chooses paints for her sister’s portrait, she hears a faint
rumbling, not thunder, not streetcars. An uneasy sound.
Night explodes in fractures of shining glass.
Sidewalks hold storefront fragments,
deadly crystals glitter,
almost beautiful with still-red blood.
Synagogues’ stained-glass windows shatter,
Hebrew words separate, a dove drops its olive leaf.
Night breaks into a million pieces,
translucent slivers, silvered arcs cascade
around books and bodies, tables holding remnants of dinner.
Glass floats, falls, illuminated
by a cold moon.
Interior view of the destroyed Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, burned on Kristallnacht.
Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass was a pogrom against Jews carried out by the Nazi Party along with some participation from the Hitler Youth and German civilians on 9–10 November 1938. The German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht (literally ‘Crystal Night’) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed. The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew living in Paris.
Copyright 2022 Valerie Bacharach
Valerie Bacharach’s chapbook Fireweed was published by Main Street Rag in 2018 and her chapbook Ghost-Mother was published by Finishing Line Press in 2021.She lives in Pittsburgh.