Sutzkever was born in Smorgon, Poland (now Smarhon, Belarus). During the First World War his family fled to seek refuge in Siberia, then in 1922 migrated to Vilna. Sutzkever was among the Modernist writers and artists in the "Young Vilna" group in the early 1930s. Under the Nazi occupation beginning in June 1941, Sutzkever survived the first period of violent persecutions of Jews, between June 25 and July 20 1941, by the Lithuanian militia, hidden in the chimney of his own house. Later as all Jews, Sutzkever was interned in the Vilna Ghetto. On September 12, 1943, along with his wife, he escaped to the forests, and together with fellow Yiddish poet Shmerke Kaczerginsky, fought against the Nazis as a partisan. During the Nazi era, Sutzkever wrote over 80 poems, whose manuscripts he managed to save for postwar publication. After the war he lived in Moscow, then Łódź, and emigrated to Israel. He now resides in Tel Aviv.

 

How?
How will you fill your goblet
On the day of liberation? And with what?
Are you prepared, in your joy, to endure
The dark keening you have heard
Where skulls of days glitter
In a bottomless pit?

You will search for a key to fit
Your jammed locks. You will bite
The sidewalks like bread,
Thinking: It used to be better.
And time will gnaw at you like a cricket
Caught in a fist.

Then your memory will resemble
An ancient buried town.
And your estranged eyes will burrow down
Like a mole, a mole…
Abraham Sutzkever


Vilna Ghetto,
February 14, 1943