Poet Poem Subject
The importance of
Primo Levi Shema telling future
Hayim Gouri Heritage Jewish identity
Paul Celan Psalm God and man
Pavel Friedman The Butterfly A ghetto poem
Wisława Szymborska Could Have Fate and empathy
Written in Pencil in the
Dan Pagis Multiple themes
First They Came for the
Martin Niemöller Bystanders
The painting is filled with three images, two victims in the background and the generation after the Holocaust in
the foreground. The future generations to whom the Holocaust has to be conveyed are not represented in the
picture. The following points could be addressed:
Note the format of the poem. It has three sections with the „Holocaust‟ description wedged between the comfort
of a post-war description in the first verse and the severe admonition of the last verse
Focus on: The quality victims‟ eyes; the difference in how they are dressed;
• Is persecution built into the human condition?
• Is ethnic violence endemic?
• Does the „globe‟ represent a permanent weight to be borne by the majority of mankind?
• Is the painting an optimistic, pessimistic or realistic portrayal of Gouri‟s main message?
• What is the artist portraying in the body-language of the victim?
Points for discussion:
The relative place of the rose and its guardian thorns
The shape of the rose – does it reflect the ambiguity of Celan‟s “no one‟s rose.”
Consider the division of the painting created by the location of the rose in the corner and the thorns lying diagonally
across the center.
The young poet‟s focus on the butterfly could be addressed in terms of its symbolic power in the context of life in the
The artist‟s portrayal of this poem is very color-oriented. The contrast of dark and bright parallels the flights of
optimism and pessimism in the poem.
The following points could be discussed:
The relative size of the butterfly
The position of the butterfly at the edge of the page
The artwork linked to this poem invokes „The Other‟ or the bystander in a graphic portrayal and begs to be discussed in
terms of empathy and other emotions.
Additional points to be noted:
The intensity of the eye-contact
The physical contact through an extended hand
The sharing of suffering
The framework of the poem is the first universal family on earth and the heart of the poem is the request of the mother
to convey a message to her one son that is left unformulated.
Several themes emerge from the short lines of the poem; the case of the first murder in the history of mankind, the need
to leave testimony, the place and role of mothers in the two tragedies of the first family and the Holocaust itself.
Pagis also creates a linear connection of man‟s evil potential from the first murder to the multiple murder of the
Holocaust by linking the story of Cain and Abel to the Holocaust through the title of the poem, which is in fact the only
place where the Holocaust is alluded to.
Consider if any one theme of the poem (see no. 2 above) was uppermost in the artist‟s mind or perhaps they see
expression of more than one theme in her painting.
The artwork linked to this poem raises the question which “family” is being portrayed, Eve and Abel from the Bible or
perhaps the mother and child in the Holocaust context.
Historically, selected groups were not persecuted in the order presented in the poem. The weight of the war against
Jews carried special moral significance for some clergymen and this is reflected in the order of the groups Niemöller
The painting linked to this poem invokes a timeless depiction of persecution.
The vague nature of violence and the dread of the threat are present in the painting. It is important to note that the
focus of the painter gives prominence to the perpetrators and the viewer could feel himself as a potential victim. This
angle is invaluable for creating an appreciation of the underdog.