Category Archives: Ilona & Henia Karmel

World Peace Poetry

Yesterday, I received the following comment to the 3/5/2012 post of “The World Will Be,” a poem I had spend the previous year-and-one-half constructing. The comment and, once again, the poem brought eats to my eyes.

Dear Mr. Harris,

I am the daughter of Henia Karmel and the niece of Ilona Karmel, and I write to thank you for poem, “The World Will Be,” which my brother discovered on line and forwarded to me on the eve of Passover this year. I read it aloud at our Passover feast and we all marveled at the ripple effects of my grandmother’s words, and at the beautiful way you evoked them.

I often read from the sisters’ poems at Holocaust remembrance services at my synagogue. I would like, with your permission, to read your poem as well.

Best wishes,

Last winter, I submitted the poem to the World Peace Poets of Bellingham, not expecting a positive reception. To my surprise, it was not only accepted, it was included in Peace Poems, A collection of poems by border poets from Canada and the United States, and I was invited to read it during the Awards for Peace Ceremony and Reading. (I am the person in the far right of the back row.)

I encourage you to read the preface and the poem in the March 5, 2012 post, and to comment as you feel is appropriate. RLH

World Peace Poets

Peace PoemsPeace Poets Gathered, 2-28-2015

“The World Will Be”

    It was a thrill yesterday, to open the new issue of Whatcom Writers & Publishers and read “The World Will Be,” a poem I’ve been researching and drafting for a year-and-a-half. Of course, the first time I skimmed it I picked up changes I wanted to make. Oh well, that’s the life of a poet—never willing to let go!

    Here’s the latest version of the poem and its story:


    I began thinking about this poem as I read Fanny Howe’s comments in October 2010 Poetry after she had translated Ilona Karmel’s work and sorted through her personal effects. Ilona (1925-2000) told Howe that when they were interned in Buchenwald, their mother advised her and her sister, both teenagers, “to behave well because ‘the world will be the world again.’”

    Ilona and Henía were born in a Kraków ghetto. When the Germans occupied Poland at the beginning of WWII, the girls were uprooted from their comfortable middleclass childhood and interned with their mother in three successive labor camps. The last was Buchenwald. Their father was sent to a separate labor camp and not heard from again.
     After the war, Ilona and her sister migrated to this country, where Ilona received a degree from Radcliffe, married physicist Francis Zucker, and became an award winning novelist. Between 1979 and 1995, she was a senior lecturer in creative writing at MIT.

     Ilona and Henía wrote poetry on worksheets they stole from their Buchenwald work stations. The poems were published as A Wall of Two after the war. (The book is available from the University of California Press. An English translation of Ilona’s novel An Estate of Memory is available on Amazon.com.)

    Fannie Howe was principal translator of Karmel’s work.


The World Will Be

for Mita (Rosenbaum) Karmel and

daughters Ilona and Henia.


Think of a mother and her blossoming

daughters, their father, a number

dying in an unknown labor camp.


Think of them as floors echo

with reverberating boots,

each step a cloud of dirt and mites

swirling into cobwebs draping

concrete walls of their infested barracks.


Think of them each midnight hour

as they huddle in their bunks,

fearing that they will

be dragged to a rail siding,

thrown into a cattle car,


and disappear,

not knowing

whether they are going

right to work and starve,

or left for gas and freedom.


Think of a mother telling

her daughters to behave well,

“the world will be the world again.”


Check out WW&P’s website, http://www.whatcomwritersandpublishers.org.