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Wednesday, April 27, 2022


by Dick Westheimer

                   for Vanda Semyonovna Obiedkova

A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor died while sheltering from Russian strikes during the siege of Mariupol, her daughter has said. Vanda Semyonovna Obiedkova died on 4 April while taking cover in a freezing basement without water, in a grim echo of how she had hidden in a basement from the Nazis when she was 10 years old, her daughter Larissa told Obiedkova, the second Holocaust survivor known to have died during Russia’s war in Ukraine, “didn’t deserve such a death”, said Larissa, who was with her mother at the time. Larissa described the conditions in Mariupol as “living like animals”. Photograph: c/o Rabbi Mendel Cohen —The Guardian, April 19, 2022

"I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness;
I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too.”
—Anne Frank

The tongue of huddling in cellars is a forgotten one, a language 
only a few of us remember from the before times. But here I am, 
again, buried in this frigid basement beneath these same shamed streets. 

I should be home, folding laundry, making khrustykys for the little ones, 
maybe napping. Instead, I shiver away the last of what was me
covered only by my daughter’s thin coat.

I recall my father, gone to dust in the gulag days, his sure hand
firm over my small mouth, held my crying inside as Nazis hunted
for my kind in the homes above our blacked-out hiding place.

I beg for water but it’s really the dark that defeats me, steals these 
last shallow breaths of mine. I dream back to that time when 
10 year old me first learned the lightless dialect of cellar life, 

was forever drained of light. Since then, it has been the daily 
illuminated hours that have saved me—that made the thin link 
from one frightful night to the next—and without that dim lit bridge

I am already dead.

Dick Westheimer has—with his wife and writing companion Debbie—lived on their plot of land in rural southwest Ohio for over 40 years. His most recent poems have recently appeared or are upcoming in Rattle, Paterson Review, Chautauqua Review, RiseUp Review, Ekphrastic Review, Minyan, Gyroscope Review, and Cutthroat.