Wednesday 21 July 2021

Pecs, Hungary, 1939-1944*

by Carolyn Martin

I was raised to be afraid.
­– Therese Kolbert Dieringer
First came the drunken Serbians –
ugly, border-crossing hooligans –    
pillaging the little life we owned.

Next, peddlers of cloth, wooden spoons,
pots, and pans in child-stealing caravans              
doing what they’re bound to do.

Then air raids ripping through a town
not worth a bomb, scurrying us               
down cellar steps where mother slept

with her satchel full of documents,
father with his file-cutting tools.
I filled the darkness in between.      

Last: Nazi soldiers marching through
our streets with voices so beautiful
I fell in love with songs I didn’t understand.  

How could a child of seven know death
comes disguised as melodies playing
over cracked cobblestones?

I want one
! I cried in my mother’s arms:         
the yellow star I tried to rip off a playmate’s coat.
This: the morning playing outside ceased.

Trucks rolled through every night,
muting screams of yellow stars.

Why do stars disappear? I asked.     
My Catholic mother could not say.

Three officers – blond, blue-eyed,
armed –  quartered in our home.

No children of his own, the eldest
sat me on his lap and sang.

Hitler lost, he knew. Stalin on the way.
To Dresden: his plan for our escape.   

Warm clothes, poultry, flour sacks, butchered
pigs in a railroad car marked “Classified.”

Money gets you nowhere,
blue eyes said. Food is currency.    

A 10-hour trip took three weeks.
My father stayed behind.

* * * * *

Written in the voice of Therese Kolbert Dieringer. Reprinted with permission from Carolyn Martin, Nothing More to Lose (Beaverton, OR: The Poetry Box, 2020)

From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin is a lover of gardening and snorkeling, feral cats and backyard birds, writing and photography. Her poems have appeared in more than 125 journals and anthologies throughout North America, Australia, and the UK. Her fifth collection, The Catalog of Small Contentments will be released in 2021. Currently, she is the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation.


  1. Yes, Michael. Therese's journey with her family from Nazi-occupied Hungary through Germany then to America has not ceased to amaze me. Hers is a story of courage and faith.