Sutton Korn, 14, is in the eighth grade. She wrote two poems about the Holocaust as part of a class assignment.
This month, in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are featuring two pieces by a young poet. Sutton Korn, 14, is in the eighth grade at Ensworth School. She lives in Nashville with her family and attends Congregation Micah. We interviewed Sutton to learn more about what inspires her.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I play lacrosse and soccer and I also like to read and write.
I can tell you like to write! So, do you consider yourself a writer?
Yes, I really do. I don’t write poetry that much; I do more fiction, short stories, but I do write poetry sometimes. I’ve tried to write a book; it’s a work in progress.
What’s your book about if you don’t mind me asking?
It’s about this girl who lives far into the future where everyone lives in Antarctica and it’s like a whole new society with a monarchy and just like different stuff happens.
What inspired you to write about the Holocaust for your English assignment?
Well, it was a pretty direct assignment. We’re reading “Hitler Youth” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. The book has many pictures and my English teacher, Mr. Corzine, [gave us] a packet of 30 pictures and told us to pick two. I picked a picture of boys in a classroom with a framed portrait of Hitler behind them, and another picture of prisoners in Germany. I wrote each of the poems on them. It was a whole class [assignment], but we kind of had a lot of freedom with it.
Other than your English teacher, obviously, who is the target audience for your poems?
I don’t know exactly. I’ve just always felt a personal connection to the Holocaust because I’m Jewish and I’ve been reading about it for a really long time since I was nine or 10. I’ve just read so many accounts of it, both memoirs, fiction and loosely based on real people to actual people. I felt like it was an opportunity to put a voice to all the things I’ve been hearing, like a different perspective.
This is a really big topic for someone who’s reading it at the age of nine. So how did you grapple with that?
People talk about learning about the Holocaust like a whole thing at a specific time, but my parents taught me about it very gradually, like when I was little, [I knew] the word ‘Holocaust’
and that it was bad. And then as I got older, I slowly learned more and more details. I mean, I’ve always been a pretty big reader and I’ve never been restricted to what books I read. So, I definitely wasn’t planning on reading violent things, and when I was younger, it was historical fiction — other authors have done a good job of making it toned down so a younger audience can process it. Those books didn’t really add in depth the more horrible part [of the Holocaust], but kind of like the precursor. As I got older, I would get more and more in depth, like learning more of what actually happened with the more horrible aspects.
Why do you believe it’s still important to talk about the Holocaust today?
There’s kind of two parts. Part of it, I think, is because it was so many real people and real stories and real memories that [were] lost. And to talk about it now is to remember and honor everyone who died and make sure that we never forget, but also to make sure that nothing like that could ever happen again. Because, obviously, you never want something so horrible to happen again, as it’s important to never forget.
You know, a bunch of our readers are going to read your poems in the April issue. What do you hope they get out of your poems?
One [poem] was from the perspective of the people who were being told the Nazi propaganda and one was the perspective of people who are suffering from the Nazis. And it’s really important to remember the people who died and suffered and how horrible it was, but also how easy it was for everyone else to go along with it. The innocent people who were victims of the actual persecution and the people who were told the propaganda and went along with it are two sides of the same coin because they were both victims; some people had everything taken and other people just their free will. I don’t know exactly how to phrase it, but it’s just important to remember that horrible things don’t happen without other people turning aside.
Do you have anything else to add that we might not have already covered?
Really, I was just a little bit shocked that people would want to read [my poems]. I mean, I imagined being published for a long time; I never really thought it would happen so soon. I wrote it for an English assignment. I was pretty shocked … I just thought so many people would think [my poetry] was okay.
He is Always Watching
We sit at attention
Facing forward, always forward
But His eyes bore holes through the backs of our heads
The teacher drones on and on
And He is always watching
We leave the room, but He appears in the next one
Framed proudly on the back wall
Staring us down, waiting for mistakes, for weakness, for any bad behavior
He is just ink and paper, wrapped in metal or wood
But He looms over us like a God
And He is always watching
We leave the room, and head outdoors
To what should be a wonderful safe haven from the troubles of the Vaterland
But His presence sits in the trees and hides beneath the clear water of the river
He watches from our neighbor’s eyes and hears from our neighbor’s ears
Neighbor turns on neighbor, child turns on parent, friend turns on friend
He sends a swastika to separate the brothers and sisters of Germany
He makes us watch as wisdom is burned in the center of town
He makes us watch as windows are smashed and our boots crunch on shards of glass
He makes us watch as ugly triangles of paint are smeared across the homes and shops of our neighbors and friends
He makes us watch as our fellow Germans are beaten and shot in the street
He makes us watch as the skeletons of the subhumans are marched through our towns, separated from us by the black ink on their arms, the stripes adorning their tattered rags, and the flesh and soul that is missing from their bodies
He makes us watch as our fathers, our friends, and our brothers are sent to die for the Vaterland
He makes us watch, but we rejoice in it all
We wear His clothes, we say His name
Raising our arms towards Him and Heaven alike
He is just a man, but He looms over us like a God
And He is always watching
First they took our homes
Our houses and businesses, our livelihoods and friends
They crammed us behind the high walls of the ghetto as we slowly starved, sickened, and disappeared
Then they took our pride
We were worth nothing more than our ration cards, and the labor that our bodies could perform
But there were always more of us, always more, no matter how many starved in the street
They took our pride, so we took the ration cards off of dead bodies
Praying that Adonai would forgive us, praying that He would understand
Shema Yisrael, Hear O’Israel
But Israel did not hear our cries
Then they took our children
We were showed the long lists of names
Their young bodies were crammed into cattle cars
They never came back
Their ghosts haunted us as our strength faded away
Then they took whatever we had left
Cramming us into cattle cars, so many bodies we could barely breathe
Some couldn’t breath at all
They died where they stood, and could not even fall over
Then they took our families, our parents and brothers and sisters and spouses and cousins and everyone
We went right, they went left
As suffocating clouds of smoke drifted out of the giant chimneys and the doors to the gas chambers sealed shut
They separated us
Gender, age, skills, everything that could set us apart
Then they took our clothes, our shoes, our watches, whatever we had
Dumped into piles as we moved on
Stepped into the showers and held our breath
Thanking Adonai when only cold water came out
Adonai Elohainu, Adonia Echad; Adonai is our god, Adonai is one
Then they took our humanity
They took our hair and needled our arms with numbers
We were not people any longer, we were numbers now
We were animals that were crammed into cattle cars
We were animals who stole from the dead
We were animals who stood still as stones as our brothers were murdered before our eyes
There were few things that they could not take from us
They could not take our brotherhood
We dragged and held onto those who were too weak to stand,
Propped them up for roll call as they counted our bodies one by one
They could not take our will to survive
We learned to stand in the back of the line for soup
We wanted the little bits of meat that sank to the bottom of the pot
They could not take our faith as we prayed
Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto L'olam Va'ed
Blessed is God’s majesty forever and ever
We are His people, but were not blessed
We suffered, but not as much as those people it hurts to remember
Not as much as those whose names we can barely speak
But speak we must
We are the survivors, so we say these words
We say that We Remember
We say Never Again
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