“A Man in Dachau”, inspired by recollections of Viktor Emil Frankl, is a poem to which I have returned many times. In my first response I was overwhelmed by the nobility of which Frankl wrote. My second response was modified by some observations made by two friends in poetry, Ikeogu Oke and Laura Kaminski, who both added their own unique balance to my enthusiasms. Recently, I returned to the poem and this fourth version is the result.
A Man in Dachau.
Above the iron gate,
in letters of iron,
“Work will set you free.”
Inside the iron gates
sadism, despair, death,
a rule beyond brutality,
a regime beyond callousness,
darkness thick, impenetrable, absolute.
How could light exist in such darkness?
Yet I read of a man who surrendered
his pitiful morsels of bread to those
he thought were suffering more.
"I am no mere plaything of circumstance.
They can take my life.
What they cannot take is my freedom
to choose my own way."
“Choice,” I joyously shouted,
determines what we are
and who we will be.
Look! Even in Dachau a man
chose compassion over self.”
A friend said:
"Noble indeed is such a one.
Heroes make these choices.
The exception though is not the rule.
Choice is circumscribed by circumstance
and eliminated for most by horror of place."
Another then spoke:
"Oppression's boot can find the weight
To crush all choice away.
Was that man's compassion an act of choice?
I rather think it a gift of grace."
The man from Dachau then appeared.
"The parade", he said, "is unendingly long
of those who shuffle by-
children starving or abused,
women beaten, mutilated, acid-scarred,
the tortured, guiltless and cruelly oppressed,
the dispossessed, the mind-manacled,
the legions of the sick and poor.
I merely do what I must do.
Those who can, should follow."
“Such thinking is divine,”
is the voice I think is mine.
“That one had the gift of grace.
He still gives the gift of hope.
Grant me then the grace to follow.”
© 2018 Neil Creighton
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell him or her. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is the beginning of community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -FF