Blackbird an online journal of literature and the arts Fall 2007  Vol. 6 No. 2



Fragments from a Nonexistent Yiddish Poet

 Fragment 12
 Fragment 13
 Fragment 14
 Fragment 26

In 2007, Jehanne Dubrow spent four months serving as a Sosland Foundation Fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, which is the academic branch of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She had gone to Washington, DC, in order to examine the legacy of trauma in the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Her plan was to write a “novel-in-poems” about third generation Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  Instead, as she began reading yizkor books, listening to witness testimony, and studying historical accounts of prewar Jewish life in Galicia, a make-believe Yiddish poet presented herself to her. Ida Lewin—an Orthodox, Yiddish-speaking, proto-feminist—is the poet she might have been, had she been born in another era, another geography.   

Despite her months of research at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Fragments from a Nonexistent Yiddish Poet did not end up being about the Shoah, although the poems do brush up against the event.  According to Dubrow’s timeline, Ida dies in 1938 (of influenza rather than Auschwitz-related causes).  On the page, the fragments are indeed fragmented, having been lost for many years before being rediscovered.  They are also “translations,” which creates an additional distance between reader and text.  The poems evoke a Jewish cultural and religious milieu, a world that simply does not exist anymore; in this way, they gesture toward the Shoah by evoking absence.