Alexander Kimel was born in Podhaje, Galiza, in the late 1920s. In 1940 Kimel’s family moved to the ghetto of Rohatyn, to avoid the Red Army, who where advancing.
Ghetto life was draining, with Kimel being forced to do hard labour everyday. Between 1941-1943, 9,900 out of 10,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto. There were also extreme sanitation issues, resulting in the death of Kimel’s mother and hundreds more.
In May 1943, Kimel ran away, just one month before the ghetto and everyone in it was destroyed. Kimel lived in surrounding villages and forest before coming to America.
Kimel is still alive and living in America. He attended the 70-year anniversary of the Holocaust service at the New Synagogue of Fort Lee (2010). When asked what he learnt through the Holocaust, he replied,
“We have to be tolerant. I don’t care if you’re Catholic, Muslim or something else, as long as you’re a decent human being. That’s really what it is.”
Image curtsey of Holocaust Survivors.
Alexander Kimel reflects the context in his poem ‘I Cannot Forget’ by describing, in detail, his experiences in the ghetto and how he wishes he could forget these memories because they were so horrific. He has memories of ‘families vanishing’ and the ‘children shaking like leaves in the wind’, and these help readers understand the horrors inflicted on the Jews. He addresses both how the Jews were treated, and the resulting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that thousands of Jews developed after these events, like soldiers in the war, and how those memories will forever haunt them.
Holocaust surviors recall their experiences in Ghettos.
Curtsey of the Holocaust History Museum in Yad Vashem.
In the poem, I Cannot Forget, Alexander Kimel describes the trauma and misery that Jewish people were subjected to. During the Nazi rule in Germany, the Jewish community were subject to horrors everyday, not only in concentration camps, the first of which was ran by a recently released patient from a ward for the criminally insane, but also in the ghettos, in which they were contained. I will be discussing how Kimel conveys these themes through repetition and how mood is created.
Kimel uses repetition to emphasis the terrors and how the survivors of the Holocaust suffer trouble forgetting those disturbing events. Research done in Israeli estimated that up to 65% of Holocaust survivors developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The repetition of “No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?” demonstrates the long-lasting affects that were inflicted onto the Jewish community. Kimel’s final line “I have to remember and never let you forget” is talking about how this event is a crucial event in our history that learning about can help us ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Kimel also uses negative metaphors to create a frightful atmosphere. By using phrases such as, “searching for children in vain”, “the creation of hell”, “children shaking like leaves”, “dripping with fear” and “begging for life”, Kimel creates a dire mood and an excellent imagery of the horrible conditions and hopelessness in the ghetto. By choosing words, such as “torturous”, “wailing” and “fearful”, Kimel not only created mood, but also left very little room for interpretation. From the first stanza, his stance and opinion are blindingly clear and show that the events were so horrific, that there leaves little room for interpretation.
In conclusion, like Niemöller, Kimel uses repetition to emphasis a different aspect of the Holocaust, however he also created a comprehensible nightmarish mood, through his use of metaphors and adjectives, which is not seen in Niemöller’s poem.