The destruction of European Jewry during World War II was an event of unspeakable humiliation and ugliness. Despite a natural growing tendency today, in its aftermath, to want to wrest from those years some sparks of dignity and affirmation, the men and women who were caught in the ghettos and camps knew its irredeemable misery and brutalizing force. Destruction is the antonym of creation. Not much of value could be salvaged and even less could be fashioned as European Jewish civilization was laid waste and the human image reduced to skeletal worthlessness.
Abraham Sutzkever was one of the tiny percentage of creative artists who lived through and survived the devastation. He was one of fewer still who lived through it as a writer, producing between 1941 and 1945 some of his finest poems. The works of those years, written not in retrospect, and not at a distance, but during the daily wretchedness of ghetto life and under constant threat of death, constitute an exceptional instance in the history of art. Sutzkever knew that the writing of Yiddish verse could satisfy the demands of art. His ghetto poems are the more significant because they are not only expressions of the will to resist, but in their subtlety and power, obdurate proofs of survival in a body of work that stands beyond circumstance and time. Ruth R. Wisse