This picture was taken on 5 July 1913. It shows a newlywed Jewish couple, residents of Uman. The man kept books. The woman played a piano. Their daughters were born in 1923 and 1925. The man succumbed to a cardiac arrest in 1938. The woman carried on.
Uman was occupied by the Wehrmacht on 1 August 1941. On Wednesday, 15 August 1945, Oberlieutnant Erwin Bingel recounted the events of 16 September 1941. He was under orders to set up guards on all railways in the area, and around the Uman airport, which contained the town’s Jews, herded on horseback by an armed Ukrainian militia, for a census roll call posted throughout the region. The shooters of Einsatzgruppe C, led by Otto Rasch, holder of two university doctorates in political economy and philosophy, ordered each successive row of Untermenschen to move forward to a row of tables where they had to undress completely and hand over everything they wore and carried. They were made to stand in line in front of the ditches. The Einsatzkommandos then marched in behind the line and mowed it down with submachine guns and Parabellum pistols. Thereupon, the Jewish men in each successive row were ordered to step out and take shovels with which to heap chloride of lime upon the bodies convulsing in the ditch. At last they returned to the tables and undressed to embark on the same last walk.
On the following day, Oberfeldwebel Renner and another man under Bingel’s command were taken to the Lvov field hospital with “complete nervous breakdowns”. In his postwar deposition, Bingel estimated that 24,000 Jews were killed in his sight on that day. This woman and her mother numbered among them.
Two Formal Elegies
For the Jews in Europe
Knowing the dead, and how some are disposed:
Subdued under rubble, water, in sand graves.
In clenched cinders not yielding their abused
Bodies and bonds to those whom war’s chance saves
Without the law: we grasp, roughly, the song.
Arrogant acceptance from which song derives
Is bedded with their blood, makes flourish young
Roots in ashes. The wilderness revives,
Deceives with sweetness harshness. Still beneath
Live skin stone breathes, about which fires but play,
Fierce heart that is the iced brain’s to command
To judgment—studied reflex, contained breath—
Their best of worlds since, on the ordained day,
This world went spinning from Jehovah’s hand.
For all that must be gone through, their long death
Documented and safe, we have enough
Witnesses (our world being witness-proof),
The sea flickers, roars, in its wide hearth.
Here, yearly, the pushing midlanders stand
To warm themselves; men brawny with life,
Women who expect life. They relieve
Their thickening bodies, settle on scraped sand.
Is it good to remind them, on a brief screen,
Of what they have witnessed and not seen?
(Deaths of the city that persistently dies…?)
To put up stones ensures some sacrifice,
Sufficient men confer, carry their weight.
(At whose door does the sacrifice stand or start?)
—Geoffrey Hill, 1959