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Dan Pagis' Poetry

Teacher's Guide

Grades: 11 - 12 
Duration: 1 - 1.5 hours

Didactive Objectives

The suggestion to use poetry in order to engage students in the historical study of the Holocaust is based on the belief that a personal statement, as most Holocaust poetry is, will effectively trigger initial interest in the subject. Poems allow a personal inside view in contrast to the more distanced historian’s account. The human dimension, which is often the focus in poetry will more easily generate attention. The prism of attention that will emerge from the poem can then be directed in a widening arc to the historical factors connected to the poem.

Dan Pagis, an Israeli writer, was born in Bukovina, Romania in 1930. His early years were spent in a Nazi concentration camp in the Ukraine, formerly in Romania, from where he escaped. He immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1946 and taught medieval Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He became one of the most vibrant voices in modern Israeli poetry. His references to the Holocaust are sometimes oblique, filtered through his use of biblical or mystical images. He died in 1986.

Five poems of Dan Pagis are presented in this selection, focusing on various aspects of the Holocaust. The five poems do not form a composite picture of the Holocaust. They are rather like different colored stones in an intricate mosaic that depict, in a very personal way, different angles of his postwar reflections. They are not interlinked or interdependent although of course common points of reference between some of them can be developed for deeper study. Recurring motifs appearing in the poems will be dealt with at the conclusion of this unit.

These poems are presented separately. A teacher may choose to work with any number of the poems, or with all of them. Teachers who use two or more of the poems presented can then avail themselves of the suggestions appearing under Recurring Motifs at the end of the unit.


The Poems

The Roll Call
Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car
Instructions for Crossing the Border
Draft of a Reparations Agreement
Recurring Motifs