Lillian Boraks-Nemetz has a new poetry compilation, called Out of the Dark, which will be released by Ronsdale Press in the fall. (photo from Lillian Boraks-Nemetz)
The death in late May of George Floyd, while he was pinned down on the ground by a Minneapolis police officer, has sparked continuing protests throughout the United States and the world. The tragic incident struck a nerve with Vancouver author and poet Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, and she composed “The Arm,” a poem about racism, in Floyd’s honour.
The poem begins: “Today I am George Floyd / I am a Jew / so I know how it feels / To be stifled / By the arm of hate / That extends toward anyone / Who is different in colour / Culture or creed.”
“Before he died, George Floyd said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ When I think of the enormity of the Holocaust and its implications in my life, I can hardly breathe,” Boraks-Nemetz, a Shoah survivor, told the Independent in a recent interview from her home in Vancouver.
“There were moments during the Holocaust when fear froze my throat and I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “The first time, I stood at the Nazi checkpoint dividing the Warsaw Ghetto from the rest of the world, I had to let go of my father’s hand and walk alone through the checkpoint, hoping the German guard holding a rifle won’t shoot me. The second time I couldn’t breathe was when I found out that my little sister was murdered by a policeman during the war only because she was a Jew. Like poor George Floyd, my sister didn’t survive.”
When asked what she hopes people who read the poem will take from it, she replied: “There are people in our community who do not identify with the anti-racism goings on. I do.”
She explained, “They talk about the black injustice, the indigenous injustice. I am talking about the Jewish injustice and the rise of antisemitism around the world. It seems as if this topic has been completely omitted from all conversations on racism by both Jews and non-Jews. These incidents, like the killing of George Floyd, touch every survivor of trauma one way or another.”
“The Arm” ends: “As the world burns / From loss, guilt and disgust / May the good people of this Earth / Rise and open their arms / Far and wide to release / Love, kindness and justice for all / Because today each one of us / Is George Floyd.”
The poem comes ahead of the release of Boraks-Nemetz’s new poetry compilation, Out of the Dark, which will be released by Ronsdale Press in the fall.
The 100-page collection offers a cycle of poems in three parts about the poet, who has had to live with the memories of the Holocaust all her life. The first section describes the evils of suffering and prejudice, of war and destruction, and the loss of loved ones, even the loss of self.
“This is a ghetto / where humans live in neglected cages / within a fire that burns sleep out of their eyes,” one verse proclaims.
The second section offers “flickers of light” in locating paths to a more fulfilling life, once the poet understands, “We must always seek / new ways / of reaching one another / though each of us / is a world unto itself.”
The third section pays homage to the creative minds who preceded us and who have bequeathed us their gifts. And it explores the ability to live and love: “I run toward you / carrying the glow of marigolds / lighting your path to my love.”
Boraks-Nemetz is well-known in British Columbian and Canadian literary circles. In 2017, she published Mouth of Truth, a novel that also addressed the power of speaking up for justice. In it, the protagonist must confront secrets from her family’s past in Warsaw during the Holocaust, issues of guilt and discrimination, and verbal, psychological and physical abuse.
Canadian poet John Robert Colombo called Mouth of Truth “a work of great insight and fine delicacy about the human condition.”
Previous works by Boraks-Nemetz – The Old Brown Suitcase, The Sunflower Diaries, The Lenski File and Tapestry of Hope – have garnered Canadian and international awards, as well as praise in literary publications.
Outside her literary endeavours, Boraks-Nemetz is a campaigner for Holocaust education. She speaks frequently at local schools and at international events about the Shoah and is deeply involved with the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada.
To read “The Arm” in its entirety, visit Boraks-Nemetz’s website, lillianboraks-nemetz.com/2020/06/04/the-arm/#more-647. To pre-order her upcoming book of poetry, visit ronsdalepress.com/all-books/out-of-the-dark.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.