By 1943, well into the persecution and segregation of Jews in War World II, it was also known that for anyone caught aiding Jews the penalty was death. 1943 was also the year of the ghetto uprisings in Warsaw and many losses.
For me the poem also brings up some very important questions around self identity. Which roles could you or would you be able to play?
THE INSTITUT DE BEAUTE’
ON MARZALKOWSKA STREET Irene Latham
Warsaw, Poland, 1943
We are no different, Mrs.Walter
says to Mrs. Rozenblum’s back
as she uses a cotton ball to paint
the dull black locks with bleach.
Then she sweeps the hair away
from Mrs. Rozenblum’s forehead,
pulls the hairbrush hard against
the scalp to banish any kinks.
Wear grey, she says, which means,
do not draw attention to yourself.
Wear a cross around your neck
at all times. The smallest detail
has the power to betray. Put away
the eyeglasses, the scarf. In case
the police stop you. Learn the Lord’s
Prayer and keep your eyes up.
Shop for pork. They will not suspect
if you can prepare Polish dishes.
Tell your husband to order bimber
and remind him to remove his hat.
Remember, it’s called a church. Then
Mrs. Walter puts down the hairbrush,
looks Mrs. Rozenblum straight in her eyes.
We will suffer, she says. We are the same.
bimber, synonymous with: booze, hooch, moonshine