When under the gallows our children cried
We did not hear the world’s wrath.
For of all the peoples you selected us
For us you loved and sanctified.
For you selected us of all the peoples
hose of France, Japan and Norway.
And when our children march to the gallows
Smart Jewish kids, they all know
That their blood does not count and say
Mom, turn your eyes the other way.
The iron devoured day and night
And the holy Christian Father in the city of Rome
Did not come out with the icons of Christ
To stand one day in a pogrom.
To stand one day, one single day
Where for years like a lamb
Great is the worry about sculptures and paintings
Lest those art treasures are destroyed in a raid
But the heads of infants, art treasures they are,
Are smashed to the walls, and crushed on the roads.
Their eyes are begging: Mom don’t look and don’t see
Us lined lying in long rows on the ground.
We are famous old soldiers
Only short in size, aren’t we?
They say with their eyes a few more words
“We know, God of our forefathers
That you selected us of all the kids in the world
That you loved and pampered us more than all others.
That of all the kids in the world us you selected
To be killed at the feet of your throne,
And our blood in small vases you collected
Because no one else would, only you alone.
And you smelled it like flowers
And you wiped it with your scarf
And for it you will charge both the killers
And the silence keepers.”
Nathan Alterman (1910-1970) was one of the leading poets of his generation, whose lyrical poetry and songs were very popular in Mandate Palestine and later in Israel. The Poem “Of All the Peoples” first appeared in print in Haaretz on Novemeber 27, 1942, four days after the Jewish Agency informed the public authoritatively about the mass murder of European Jewry by Nazi Germany.
Dan Ben-Amos is a folklorist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he holds the Graduate Program Chair for the Department of Folklore and Folklife.