WEST ORANGE, NJ — In 2009, West Orange resident Mark Meyerowitz was cleaning out his late mother’s office when he came across a collection of poems among some paperwork. The poems were written in a variety of languages by unknown authors about the Holocaust during or right after World War II, and Meyerowitz doesn’t know how or where his mother, a survivor of the Holocaust, got them. He had them translated into English, and published the poems this year in a book called “When You Say Your Last Goodbye.”
“I wish I knew who the authors are but I don’t,” Meyerowitz told the West Orange Chronicle in a May 17 phone interview. “She had never mentioned them. This was something that was very impactful — the authors went through a lot. If I just sat on them they would be lost and that would be tragedy. There’s a responsibility there, people don’t get to hear the words of survivors very often.”
The nine poems are accompanied with photos that Meyerowitz took during a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau with his wife and daughter last summer, and by music written by Turkish composer Yucem Varoglu.
“Last summer I went to Auschwitz and spent the day on the tour and some time in Krakow,” Meyerowitz said. “I didn’t put explanations of the photos, but the picture on the cover is Krakow. The pictures aren’t really matched to the poems but I think, even though they don’t match, it still gives the idea of the story.”
Putting the book together took nearly a decade. Meyerowitz found the poems in 2009, and had them translated a year later. After asking friends who didn’t have enough knowledge of other languages, he hired translators to convert the poems from their original French, German and Polish. Now that the book has been published, Meyerowitz is sending it to teachers and college professors around the country with the hope that it can be used in classes about the Holocaust.
“Now I’m doing something with it,” he said. “I’ve sent it to rabbis and college professors. I’ve gotten a nice response from Holocaust professors, because it’s hard to find good poetry. Poems from that time are plentiful from 10 to 15 years after it was over, but not from immediately.”
Professors at the University of Alabama and the University of Minnesota have told Meyerowitz that they plan to incorporate “When You Say Your Last Goodbye” into their classes, as have professors at colleges close to home like Stockton University and Monmouth University. The New Jersey Holocaust Education Commission also wants to use the book.
Meyerowitz’s goal is to get as many people as possible to read “When You Say Your Last Goodbye.” He is giving it away for free — contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org — in an effort to get it into the hands of as many readers as he can. He hopes the entire United States will require Holocaust education; New Jersey is one of the 10 states that currently have this requirement. Earlier this month, Connecticut became the most recent state to require Holocaust education.
“I want to put them on display, they shouldn’t be sitting on my desk,” Meyerowitz said of the books. “If I give them out for free, more people will look at them. There’s a huge need for Holocaust programming, and I don’t know if there’s a source of good material. I’m hoping to put on different programs that people can see because there are things in there that we can learn from.”