The poem was inspired by a lecture by Dominique Tomasov, an activist and researcher who contacted me after stumbling across my article on antisemitism in Spain for the Forward. Dominique’s organization, Zakhor, is a center of studies dedicated to the protection and transmission of Jewish heritage in Europe, and in the lecture she described her efforts to locate and preserve the honor of the ancient Jewish cemetery on Montjuïc in Barcelona. In particular, I was horrified and fascinated to learn that there are places in the Old City of Barcelona where you can see Hebrew names engraved in the walls, not because the walls were carved by Jews, but because those stones were actually gravestones plundered from the ancient cemetery and used as construction material. Of the many hundreds of graves located on Montjuïc, only a few headstones were found marking them because of this phenomenon.
I recalled reading about this happening elsewhere in Europe after the Holocaust, but I had never heard of it happening in medieval Spain. Turns out, it was fairly common.
I found myself scouring the Internet to research other instances like it. I came across all kinds of very disturbing stories and images from all over Europe. That’s how this poem was born.
Many thanks to Dominique for her important and inspiring work, and to the editors of Stonecoast, whose spot-on comments and suggestions greatly enhanced the poem. You can purchase a hard copy of the issue in which it appears here on Amazon.
Our tradition teaches us
That respecting the dead
Is the truest act of kindness
Since they cannot defend their honor.
How do I explain this
To the jovial woman in Thessaloniki
Who tells me that her father built his home
Using whatever stones he could find,
And shrugs when I ask
Whether he noticed