THE INSTITUT DE BEAUTE’ ON MARZALKOWSKA STREET

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

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