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(A re-post for International Holocaust Day.  In 2011 John Demjanjuk, a retired car-worker in Ohio originally from the Ukraine,  was deported to and convicted in Germany of war crimes he committed while working as a guard for the Nazis at Sobibor concentration camp. It has always struck me that our precious principles are cheap until upholding them comes at a cost).


They took us near Vinnytsia in 1941

Supply lines long since severed, ammunition all but gone.


We numbered 97 boys, all from Podillia’s lands

They shot a half of us right then as we raised our hands.


They ordered us to strip our dead beneath that wintery sun

I’ve asked myself a thousand times, “What would you have done?”


They shipped us north to Poland along with thousands more

And onwards to this barbed-wire Hell that’s known as Sobibor.


Inside these walls of horror there is no Wrong, no Right

Just wake at dawn; make sure that day you live to sleep at night.


And do just as they bid you to, as all of us have done

I’ve asked my friends a thousand times, “What would you have done?”


I’ve ripped the women’s clothes off to show the guards their tits

Then hauled the bodies on the cart and heaved them in the pits.


I’ve beaten aged Jews to death to give the guards their fun

And begged their souls a thousand times, “What would you have done?”




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John Coopey

Mon 29th Jan 2018 18:01

Many thanks, Ray. As I said in one of my earlier responses, it’s really about us.

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Mon 29th Jan 2018 16:48

Remarkably conceived and expressed piece of writing John.
What comes across in watching "Night must Fall" about the death camps is the sheer stripping away of the human spirit and to write of it is mainly to fail - I have tried and given up. You have come at it from a side perspective and given it gravitas and thrown a light on it. To place your alter ego in a guard's mind is brave and effective. Well done mate.


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John Coopey

Mon 29th Jan 2018 16:29

Thanks again, David. It was also an attempt, I confess, to write a poem on a subject of extreme gravitas in rhythm and rhyme, which many might otherwise consider an unsuitable vessel.

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Wolfgar Miere

Mon 29th Jan 2018 13:30

That is very generous of you to say John but I genuinely don’t feel worthy of gratitude.

There is a difference whereby I chose to serve half knowing what that might involve. So many civilians and servicemen got caught up in actions for which they where not prepared or equipped to survive. For me it is them that I reserve my sympathy and gratitude.

You’re very kind to speak as you do, thank you.

Just to say again the poem is excellent, I hope I have not detracted from it in any way.


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John Coopey

Mon 29th Jan 2018 13:01

We are indeed (the rest of us, not you by all accounts, David) lucky to have avoided the type of conflicts our parents and grandparents suffered. We have a debt of gratitude to them and you which pays for the values and principles we can afford to hold so cheaply.

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Wolfgar Miere

Mon 29th Jan 2018 10:04

John you've really got me caught up in this one because it touches upon so many aspects.

If you don't mind I can add a little of my experience of war/conflict (not in any way as horrific or traumatic as you have described here)

It is that after a while in that environment the greater conflict fades, you close down and everything becomes about survival, to achieve that it is sometimes effective to dehumanize your enemies and sometimes yourself and do everything just to survive to get home.

People like to imagine themselves as courageous and brave, thats all very well and some people truly are. In large part though, that is for the movies with all their rousing sound-tracks and righteous metaphors, war and conflict is hell and those who haven't thankfully experienced it are bloody lucky.


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John Coopey

Mon 29th Jan 2018 09:11

Many thanks for you thoughts, MC. Without disputing a word of what you say, I think it would have been a very brave person indeed who chose not to comply with the Nazis orders. I’m afraid that if they had told me to corral the Jews towards the gas chambers or be shot myself, I’d have done it.

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M.C. Newberry

Mon 29th Jan 2018 02:51

I've been to Dachau and pondered the meaning of the place and what happened there - and in numerous
other camps planned and placed around Nazi Germany and its satellites.
But when watching the newsreels - especially those taken
by the Nazis themselves - and absorbing the sight of the legions of raised "Sieg Heil" hands almost into infinity - the
question posed in this hard hitting piece is entirely
relevant to those who served a system that saw
little value in so many varieties of human life. And it is
worth remembering some still live and may even feel no remorse
over their participation in the infliction of vile cruelty and
death to others without feeling any need for self-restraint.
Such regimes offer safe havens for psychopaths, sadists and
their kind - seeking justification for their deeds when in
the ascendancy and excuses in defeat. The Milice in Vichy France
were one example - their methods
towards their victims exceeding even those of the Gestapo in brutality. Origins are no guide to
such behaviour.

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Wolfgar Miere

Sun 28th Jan 2018 21:35

Absolutely John, and it is a question we should ask ourselves often, especially when judging the actions of others.

Thanks again,


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John Coopey

Sun 28th Jan 2018 21:32

Thankyou, David.
Ostensibly it's a poem about Sobibor and secondarily about John Demjanjuk.
In reality. it's about us.

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Wolfgar Miere

Sun 28th Jan 2018 21:13

Never a truer word spoken John, or pertinent question asked.

How many people in our society in this age know anything about the desperation of survival and the desire to live, very few I imagine. Yet many are willing to condemn those unfortunate wretches who have had to endure such horrors.

I am no apologist for evil hateful bastards who I would have been happy to see swing in the courtyards of Nurmberg and Spandau, and am unmoved by the fact that many of them did. But in reality people's individual stories are never so straight forward.

Coincidentally I watched "Schindler's List" today for the first time in years. Honestly I could only get about half way through it.

A fine poem and an excellent reading, your frankness and shocking words hit home the horrors of survival.

A very difficult and problematic subject to address in poetry, which you have managed brilliantly.

I'm sure you know that Sobibor was the site of one of the only prisoner uprisings in the camps, so it is evident that some did rise up against the pigs of war without selling their souls.

Thank you John,


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