- Harvest of Blossoms: Poems from a Life Cut Short
Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, a cousin of poet Paul Celan, was born in 1924 in Czernowitz (formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, subsequently in Romania, now Chernivitsi, Ukraine). She attended Romanian and then Yiddish language schools, but her native language was German, and it was in German that she wrote poetry, beginning around age 15. After living in the Czernowitz ghetto in 1941, she was deported with her mother and stepfather from Czernowitz to Nazi camps in Transnistria, where she died in the camp Michailowka on December 16, 1942. A selection of her poetry that she had transcribed into an album and left with a friend before her deportation survived and was brought to Israel in the years after the Second World War. Although individual poems circulated among her friends, and her poem ("Poem") about the invasion of Czernowitz appeared in an East German anthology of Jewish and Holocaust poetry in 1968 (reportedly at Celan's insistence), the entire collection of her surviving works, 52 original poems in German, five translations from French, Yiddish, and Romanian into German and one from French into [End Page 145] Yiddish, first appeared in Israel at the instigation of her former teacher at the Yiddish school in Czernowitz, Hersh Segal, in a private printing that he financed in 1976. It was first published in Germany in 1980, and the 2008 English translation is its first appearance in English in its entirety.
Published collections of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger's poetry tend to emphasize the story of her life and the miraculous preservation of her work in their presentation of her poems. In particular they place Meerbaum-Eisinger in the context of her Czernowitz origin, either by virtue of the editor or translator's common origin in Czernowitz and personal connections with the poet and the Czernowitz Jewish literary scene, or by virtue of their very distance from it. Hersch Segal's personal connection to Meerbaum-Eisinger is clearly expressed in his afterword to her poems, which Adolf Rauchwerger's 1979 edition of the poems published by Tel Aviv University Press reproduced, and the 1983 Hebrew edition also translated. Leibu Levin, in his introduction to his Yiddish translation of the poems, published in Israel in 1978, discusses his personal ties to Meerbaum-Eisinger, as a drama instructor in the Yiddish school. By contrast, Jürgen Serke's foreword to the first edition of the poems for a German publisher (Hoffman and Campe, 1980) emphasizes his own role as a German journalist who was bringing to the attention of the German public books that had been banned or otherwise restricted during the Nazi period. His research and interviews with Meerbaum-Eisinger's surviving relatives and friends allow him access to Meerbaum-Eisinger's life despite his distance from her milieu in time, space, and background.
The introduction to the English translation puts Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger into the context of an extended Czernowitz community, but through the eyes of a generation without direct connections to a Jewish life-world in Czernowitz. Irene Silverblatt and Helene Silverblatt, Selma's nearest living relatives, have a far more personal relationship to her story than Serke. Their mother, Hilde Schrager Silverblatt, was Meerbaum-Eisinger's cousin, but since Hilde's father Karl Schrager (Selma's mother's brother) had immigrated to the United States before the First World War, Hilde Schrager Silverblatt never knew her cousin. To present the known facts about Meerbaum-Eisinger's life, Irene and Helene Silverblatt draw from memoirs available in English and from Jürgen Serke's interviews. Serke had been able to speak with Meerbaum-Eisinger's teachers and friends personally; a generation later, the Silverblatts, knowing only family stories limited to little more than names and final fates, have access to few of Meerbaum-Eisinger's friends, and must rely heavily on the published texts and memoirs to sketch Meerbaum-Eisinger's life. They contextualize these...