Wheaton College professor examines the history of the Holocaust through poetry

 Poet and Wheaton College Professor Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner looks at the history of the Holocaust through poetry in her lecture in the Founders Lounge on Sunday, April 8.  Photo by Cheyenne Roper

Poet and Wheaton College Professor Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner looks at the history of the Holocaust through poetry in her lecture in the Founders Lounge on Sunday, April 8. Photo by Cheyenne Roper

By Cheyenne Roper, News Reporter

To explore the Holocaust through the lens of poetry, Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner asked her audience “Can poetry be written after Auschwitz?” during her lecture titled by her question on Sunday, April 8.  

Baumgaertner is a poet and emerita professor of English at Wheaton College, who wrote her first poem at the ripe age of 16 after visiting Dachau Concentration Camp, and has since immersed herself in to the literature of the Holocaust.  

The Holocaust Education project at Elmhurst College hosted the event just in time for the national Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was celebrated on April 11 and 12 in honor of all of those who lost their lives.  

“I believe that this genocide especially, but also all other genocides of the 20th century, have actually created a new form of literature,” said Baumgaertner. “One which defies the traditional dictum, the works of the imagination, works of art, brings order out of chaos, and involves moments of recognition and insight.”  

A Ceremony of Remembrance and Responsibility was held before the lecture, where nine candles were lit by EC students and Jewish families. A moment of silence fell over the crowd.  

Baumgaertner went on to explain how important poetry truly is after traumatic worldly events such as mass genocides. 

She then continued by quoting Susan Gubar, a Pulitzer Prize nominee. 

 “‘In an effort to signal the impossibility of a sensible story, the authors of poetry provide spurts of vision, baffling but nevertheless powerful pictures of fragmentary scenes, unassimilated in to an explanatory plot,’ he writes. ‘By abrogating narrative coherence and seizing images of the past, poets mark discontinuity, engaging the psychological and the ethical, political and aesthetic consequences of the calamity, without laying claim to comprehending it in its totality.’” 

Baumgaertner agreed with Gubar in that poetry is an important part of expressing emotions that can be difficult to convey when writing on such a heavy topic.  

EC freshman Leslie Robles discussed her thoughts on the lecture. 

 “I didn’t really consider how the Holocaust was presented through literature, poetry and the media because whenever we think of movies such as ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,’ we kind of think of it in a sympathetic way,” said Robles.  

Commemorating the Holocaust through the written word is important for not only the people who lived through it, but also the youth of the future who recognize this event as something that must not ever be repeated, according to Baumgaertner. 

“Poetry must be written after Auschwitz,” Baumgaertner concluded. “Poetry forces us to slow down, pay attention, reduce language to its bare essentials, ask the biggest question, and resist closure. This is important because poetry encourages us to lament.”