Two Holocaust Survivors with a UN Connection

United Nations Headquarters in New York as seen from the East River.

Both escaped the Holocaust; both had sought to advance their literary skills, one, in poetry, the other, in novels. Both found their way to America in the 1960’s, then to the United Nations, one as a reporter for the labor-oriented New York Yiddish daily Freiheit, the other, as a correspondent for the fast-growing Israeli daily, the Yediot Achronot.

As a sideline, both took to writing books, one, of poetry; the other, novels, most of them dealing with the Holocaust, the Six Million.

Both arrived in the United States as struggling writers and facing difficulties in making ends meet. Each developed a friendship with veteran UN correspondent David Horowitz who followed their developing but differing careers. Their paths diverged in widely different directions.

One, the struggling reporter-novelist, who together with his colleague, had joined the UN Correspondents and Foreign Press Associations, both of which David Horowitz had served as president. He attained the greatest of all heights when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. This was the renowned Elie Wiesel, listed as Lazare Wiesel in the 1960’s UN Correspondents Directories. Author Wiesel’s history and the title of his multiple books are well known and have been widely publicized. He has become a world figure through his writings about his personal Holocaust experiences. There is no need here to record the details of his famed history.

The other, the reporter-poet who, during the Hitler period had managed to escape Poland for the Soviet Union, then to Italy and finally to the United States, was the humble and unassuming Wolf Pasmanik, a descendant of a famous family of scholars and rabbis. His mystical poetry reflects the tragedy of the Nazi period and the Holocaust and provokes a soul-searching criticism of the inhumanity and lack of justice among most nations.

I met Wolf Pasmanik for the first time in 1993 while attending a United Israel World Union function in New York. In fact, several of us within UIWU will remember him from those days at various organizational events in the 1990’s. Wolf was always present at the UIWU annual meetings. He was a reserved, unpretentious individual with rough-chiseled features and dark haunting eyes. I could tell that his relationship with David Horowitz was one of deep friendship and mutual respect. At almost all of our UIWU annual meetings, David would provide time on the agenda for Wolf to read one of his poems.

I never thought to ask David to tell me about Wolf. And now I wish I had. What I know about him I discovered in the myriads of papers and files in the endless boxes of United Israel World Union archived records.

Pasmanik won awards from the Yiddish Culture Organization and the Yiddish P.E.N. Club of New York for his book “Mayne Lider,” (My Poems). He was the only poet to have dedicated a poem in Yiddish to Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the author of “Babi Yar,” the epic account of the massacre of Russian Jews by the Nazis in a ravine outside Kiev. The book made Yevtushenko internationally famous, but landed him in trouble with the authorities at home. The poem suggested that anti-Semitism still lingered in the Soviet Union. Pasmanik met Yevtushenko a few years later when the latter was in New York. He asked him how things were back at the Institute and the Russian replied. “They threw me out.”

Pasmanik also dedicated a poem to Premier Golda Meir of Israel, titled “The Jewish Warriors.” After sending it to her he received a letter of thanks in Hebrew from one of Mrs. Meir’s aides.

The Yiddish poet was often invited to give lectures on his unique poetry and was active as the director of a poetry club. Though many of his poems were published frequently together with English translations in a number of Jewish publications, including the United Israel Bulletin, his own path to general recognition went in the opposite direction of his colleague Elie Wiesel. It receded. On occasions, the two met and exchanged old-time greetings.

I know from the archived records that Pasmanik carried a deep burden for those many faceless victims of Nazi atrocities and was afraid the memories would fade into history. His Yiddish poems on the subject, like the lyrics of a Leonard Cohen arrangement, reflected the torment of a troubled soul. I’m pleased to resurrect the following Pasmanik poem from the dustbin of old files and again bring it into the light of day.

There Is No Monument In New York
(Translated from the Yiddish by Robert Kramer)

There is no Monument in New York
Nor memorial to our slain.
I walk with my grief alone
The two of us bent,
As dogs howl,
And write down my anguish
With the tears of my eyes
By the light of the setting sun.

There is no Monument in New York
The night is black and mute.
From all directions
On all the roads
The dead approach me.
For none could find their rest,
And have crawled unaided from their graves.

From their eye sockets they peer out,
Gaze, because they thirst
For redress.
But in New York there is no Monument.

The night is black and mute.
They approach from all directions
With bare and boney hands
They carry water and sand and cement.

The night is black and mute.
Shadows hover
In New York
In the city of steel and of concrete.
While the living are busy, involved
The dead bear sand and cement
To Build the Monument
For themselves
For the Six Million.

Today, there are multiple Holocaust Memorials located in New York, most erected in the past twenty years. They include the Holocaust Memorial Park in Brooklyn, the Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust, and the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Plaza, both in Manhattan. It’s an impressive array of testimonials to the fallen.

Maybe even impressive enough to lift a burden and bring a slight smile to the face of an old mystical Yiddish poet.

Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. An author, historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

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