Dedicated to the memory of Hela Grynsztejn nee' Herszberg from Bydgoszcz.

..."from now on I'm your mother"...

Hela Grynsztejn Hay"d in Warsaw Ghetto 1941

Halina Birenbaum

Sounds of a guilty silence

Selected Poems

Translated from Polish by June Friedman

Centrum Dialogu

Krakow - Oswiecim 1997


Copyright (R) 1997 by Halina Birenbaum

All rights reserved



Printed in Poland

Wydawnictwo Centrum Dialogu Krakow 1997

ISBN 83904907-5-7



Halina Birenbaum - a writer, poet, and translator - born in Poland, was fifteen when the war ended and has been living in Israel since 1946. Her opus vitae "hope is the last to die" has been published in Poland, Israel, Germany and the United States - fast becoming a classic of holocaust literature. Her volumes of poetry include several titles, originally published in Polish and Hebrew.

The poet can be contacted by email:
halina "at" 012.net.il (replace "at" by @ to avid spam)



The poems of Halina Birenbaum personal and wise have the mark of long experience. They deserve to be called poetry of witness.

Halina Birenbaum is determined to speak aloud her own voice from her own perspectives. Thus her poetry becomes an offering to the dead, a way of expiation, a hope for reconciliation.

Not having to travel to Auschwitz when reading these verses one can hear the sounds of a guilty silence and feel the absence of those missing.


they say that they are bitter

pungent, they choke, suffocate

they burn eyes, cause wrinkles

everyone is afraid and ashamed of them

they are considered a sign of weakness, effeminacy

an expression of adversity, sickness, mourning

people run away from their sight, hide behind them

for me it is much worse when they are not there

when their source dries out

this means that I am numb

that nothing can move or affect me anymore

that I don't know how to worry dr how to be glad

that I have given up the fight

that nothing is left to conquer, desire or experience anymore

it means that I don't care about anybody

and no one cares about me

therefore I am a stone

a living corpse

for me tears are necessary

I have to feel their burning fire under my eyelids

feel their wet warm trace on my face

that cramp in my throat

that shiver in my body

that quickened heart beat before they appear

I have to feel their welcome beneficial warmth

that burning pain of bitterness, indignation or protest

I have to see them in other people's eyes

like a reflection and a response of their emotions

which are in me and grow in others toward me

for me tears are very precious

they are a cleansing form of life's evil dust

from mediocrity, weariness, contempt

a rebirth


tears are sincerity, the truth, human sufferings

but also human gladness

tears can show human soul

often hurt, wretched and embittered

but often radiant, rejoiced

never stone hearted

for me tears are necessary to feel alive

to show that I have a heart

and that I am truly a human being

            Herztlya     1987


The Poems


1) even when you are gone


2) we are like flowers


3) my life started from the end


4) I remember myself as a small girl from the Warsaw Ghetto


5) tears


6) a little girl from the extermination years


7) dream flight


8) unfamiliar roads


9) a tourist among tombs


10) useless dream


11) loneliness


12) fatigue


13) new verses


14) "Gefilte Fysz"


15) * * *


16) I was only a grain


17) my legend


18) autumn 1994


19) I wanted


20) "my happy poem"


21) in our room in the ghetto


22) in Stutthof


23) in the place


24) with every meeting


25) I don't let it die


26) winter - not only outside


27) to remember


28) rummaging in myself


29) there is my soul


30) Fruma


31) I don't have the right


32) in Spring


33) in my world


34) I did not believe


35) it cries in me


36) a question in school


37) for myself


38) on the way back to Israel


39) everything seems to be temporary


40) she was waiting there


41) all this really took place


42) go and visit Treblinka


43) between the lines


44) it's not a sin


45) my son is having a Bar Mitzvah today


46) topic - undesirable


47) long cottages - Auschwitz 1985



there is my soul

there among the ghosts

between the barracks

crematorium's ruins

silence full of murmurs

audible, visible but

only to me

faces figures

between present greenery

or whiteness of snow

futile moans, prayers

Dead and gone suspended forever

in the clouds over Auschwitz

on the ground, in the earth

in every pebble, speck of sand

speck of dust

over there among ashes ond bones

crushed mixed

crowds of souls in space

lost for eternity

also mine

it's not important where I live

when how or where I will die

or wherever in the world

they will bury my body

marked numer 48693

tattooed here

Herzliya - December 4.1994

Postscript by June Friedman

When reading the poems of Halina Birenbaum I was overcome with a feeling that her experiences and thoughts are exactly like my own. Reading the verses of a total stranger (who by now is my dearest friend) I often thought: How can two people think and feel the same way?

Halina Birenbaum came into my life in my darkest days. Our 30-year-old daughter was dying of cancer. We were devastated. Life was unbearable. Then from nowhere came a wonderful friend, with heart wrenching poetry, which helped me not only to survive but to face each and every day anew. One day I decided to translate her beautiful verses from the Polish language to English, so my American friends could enjoy them, too.

I will be forever grateful to her for giving me new interest and a reason to get up every morning...

She also gave me the courage to write a poem of my own to my late lamented and beloved daughter.

June Friedman

2430 Franklin Ave.

Coucil Bluffs, Iowa 51 503-5309


Without you

You have left us in the prime of your life

Facing for many months the unavoidable

In terrible suffering and pain

Bravely watching the days slip away

One by one...


You left us alone and brokenhearted

With an eternal longing of unfulfilled dreams

For the things that used to be

Things that could have been

But will never be again


They say that life goes on

As it must - for the living

Even though it is sometimes too difficult to go on

Because of the profound void in our lives

Which nothing and no one can fill


Holidays and seasons come and go

Only now without you in our midst

Today is Thanksgiving Day

Families gather everywhere

Once a holiday welcome blessing in our house

Because it brought us all together

Now, it's only a sad reminder


I used to cook and bake for hours

Looking forward with pleasure to the festivities

Waiting impatiently for your arrival

To bring with you a breath of fresh air

Your ever present sense of humor

Vitality and gladness


You have always praised my dishes

But before we could enjoy the moment

You were gone again

Being always so busy


Now your chair stays empty and you are missing forever

From our lives and from our table

All is left is that empty chair

And the emptiness in our heart


Once life used to be an adventure

Full of joyful events

Now life has no real meaning

Days are filled with sadness, mourning and anguish


We live with memories that passed us by

Life has lost its charm and splendor

Without you and your liveliness

All we have is an existence

And even when something good comes our way

You are not here to share it with us anymore


Bitter-sweet memories of you are always with us

But instead of your presence

Sorrow and tears are now permanent visitors in our home

Instead of you

Cold tombstone

Now has to replace you


Doris of blessed memory with Dave

Contact June Friedman by Email:  mailto:junef19 at earthlink.net (replace "at" by @ to avoid spam)


June Friedman:  Under Providential Guidance  


June Friedman: My Life - in Passports

Last updated June 2nd, 2006