Ein Psalm aus Babylon, zu Klagen (A Psalm to Lament Babylon)

Listen to the poem in German

Read by Linda Havas

Peter KeinOriginal Text (ca. 1941-1944)

Ein Psalm aus Babylon, zu klagen

Unter den Mauern Babylons

sassen wir und weinten,

wenn wir der Heimat gedachten.

Heimat!

Das ist das Rauschen der Bäume in den Gärten

Ach, sie sind gefällt

Heimat!

Das ist der Atem, der aus der breiten Brust des Stroms quillt,

Ach, er ist verdorrt

Heimat!

Das sind schweigenden Fenster in alten Prunkfassaden

Ach, sie sind geschleift.

Wenn ich dein vergesse, süsses Gestern,

so werde meiner Hoffnung vergessen.

Unter den Mauern Babylons

sassen wir und weinten,

wenn wir um uns blickten.

Schutthalden und verpestete Hügel

Leid und Verbrechen wandeln Arm in Arm durch zerklüftete Strassen

denn ein ziellos suchender Wahnwitz

schlitzte der Erde den Leib auf

und wühlt in ihren Gedärmen

nach einem Orakel

Unter den Mauern Babylons

sassen wir und weinten

wenn wir der Zukunft gedachten

Nicht zur Rückkehr löst sich die Fessel von unseren Füssen

aber wie Sand vor dem Herbststurm

werden wir nach den vier Winden wirbeln,

jeder einsam in feindliche Wüsten.

English Translation by Sandra Alfers

A Psalm to Lament Babylon

Under the walls of Babylon

we sat and cried

whenever we remembered home.

Home!

That is the rustling of the trees in the gardens

Ach, they are no more

Home!

That is the breath streaming from the wide breast of the river

Ach, it is withered!

Home!

That is the silent windows in old grandiose edifices

Ach, they have been sanded.

When I forget you, sweet yesterday,

[I] will forget my hope

Under the walls of Babylon

we sat and cried

whenever we looked around us.

Piles of rubble and contaminated hills

Pain and suffering walk arm in arm through ragged streets

because an aimlessly wandering lunacy

slit open the body of the earth

and rummages through its bowels

for an oracle

Under the walls of Babylon

we sat and cried

whenever we thought of the future

Not for our return will the shackle be removed from our feet

but like sand before the fall storm

we will be swirled into the direction of the four winds

each one alone into hostile deserts.

Author Notes

A Jewish Czech man, Kien was born in 1919 in Varnsdorf (current day Czech Republic). Forced to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1941, there he became deputy director of the camp’s drawing office, and several of his sketches depicting daily life and poems survived the war. He ultimately died of disease in Auschwitz in 1944.

Historical Context

The selected poem, titled “Ein Psalm aus Babylon, zu klagen,” was written during his imprisonment at Theresienstadt. Directly invoking religious imagery, one of the repeated lines is a slight alteration of a line from Psalm 137 in the Book of Psalms, which describes the destruction of Jerusalem, with his chosen alterations (namely replacing “waters” with “walls”) describing the physical layout of Theresienstadt. While the poem invokes religion and nature to describe a sense of home and the past, it is also clear that these things are no more. Furthermore, the religious imagery could be seen as a critique of God, as the last part of the poem, in which the “we” that Kien speaks of “will be swirled into the directions of the four winds / each one alone into hostile deserts” references a passage in Genesis. While the original spoke of God’s protection, Kien’s poem ends on a note of hostility and moving into a bleak future. In conveying his lamentation through a psalm, Kien expresses longing for a now-unattainable past, despair looking toward the future, and even something resembling blasphemy in potentially criticizing an absent God.

Sources

Helga Wolfenstein King & Peter Kien / Petr Kien – Holocaust Art & Artifacts. https://helgaking.com/holocaust/#peter. Accessed 7 Dec. 2021.

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Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
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The phrase "United Men" is elaborated upon in the Notes section below.

Ghetto


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رحلنا


رحلنا, or "rahalna," means "we have left."

Habibi


Habibi means "my love."

Ra7eel


Ra7eel, or "raheel," means "departure."

3awda


3awda, or "awda," means "returning."

أهلاً


أهلاً, or "ahalan," means "welcome."

a5 ya baba


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golpe


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Carlos


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