Max and Mutte: A Poem


Max and Mutte
by Rabbi David Zaslow

In 1958 I was about to meet Max and Mutte.
My mother told me,
“If you see numbers on their arms,
don’t look. Don’t ask. Don’t say a word.”
I was twelve but I understood.
There was something sacred there.
A sacred object carved on flesh
that I dare not look upon.
Enter with humility.
Like Moses, go barefoot – avert the eyes.
But Mutte knew that it was time
for her to talk.
It was thirteen years after that Event.

They were released, stateless,
and lived in camps for the stateless
another five years.
Five more years
until, in 1950,
they came to America.
everyone calls her Mutte, mother.
Even my mother calls her Mutte –
rasied Christian, married Max
and converted to Judaism.
They kept her in a special camp
because her eyes were blue.

Today her deep blue eyes
draw from Miriam’s well
and from the flames
of that unspeakable Place,
Today, in remembering,
Mutte speaks easily.
Max, God rest his soul,
never uttered the Amidah
without remembering,
but not so easily.
Mutte speaks easily though.
She knows the inner meaning of memory.
It is not something from the past,
it is her air.
The air of a German blue sky
and the rising smoke filled with ashes.
She permits us to to breathe
this air today,
so that we might remember,
and know it when we see it
in Rochester, or Brooklyn, or Ashland.
To know it when we see it
and not deny it, or run from it.
To know it when we see it,
and to never permit it to be forgotten.
To know it when we see it,
and never let it lose its sacred meaning.
To know it when we see it,
and never let it happen again.
Never again. Never again.
With God’s help,
through our eyes;
with God’s help through our voices,
never the silence again.

Mutte says, “The question
is not ‘Where was God?’
The question is ‘Where were our friends?’”
Never again?
Mutte says, “Don’t say
‘God willing.’
Ask, ‘Am I willing?’”

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