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July 22, 2015 by

The Call of Shattered Glass

This poem is one of three in Lilith’s “Tisha B’Av Poetry” series, marking the annual day of lamentation that commemorates the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Each poem evokes loss and mourning in its own way. (This year Tisha B’Av—the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av—begins Saturday evening, July 25.)  

The whole world heard it—Kristallnacht’s
shattered cities, stores, lives. For most,
deafness and paralysis. Yet one petite
woman with dark eyes, her own Lalique
and Baccarat still untouched, gazed beyond

her beveled windows, imaged each
orphaned face, heard each small voice
calling. Paying any price to bring them
out of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria—
each child a jewel added to the Rothschild

collections. Mme gathered them into her
own Chateau de la Guette until Paris fell,
buying a hotel in the south, moving them,
feeding and schooling them in La Bourboule.
Leaving money for them when she, herself,

had to flee for her life, enough to bring
them out over the Pyrenees to Spain,
to fishing boats that would take them
to America. Tiny charges implored to say
only oui or non and smile when questioned,

only smile. After the war, Madame
would return to ransacked homes, creushed
chandeliers, stolen paintings. She would
search freight cars filled with her
belongings marked “Goerring for Hitler.”

Some canvases could never be restored,
some heirlooms were never found—
precious possessions smelted for
the Reich. Yet one hundred thirty children
settled in other countries, learned new

languages, began again. Sixty years later,
they would return to Chateau de la Guette
from Boston, Miami, Cincinnati, Canada,
Israel, Australia. Strangers linked
by dim, grim details, coming together

to place a plaque for the Baroness
Germaine Halphen de Rothschild
who heard the call of shattered glass
and added to the Rothschild collection
irreplaceable, terrified treasures.