A Love Poem to Ernst Winter

AuthorNesha Ruther

DateSpring 2017


In 1900 in a small town in Germany, an 18-year-old Christian boy named Ernst Winter was brutally murdered. The small Jewish populations of the town was accused of ritual murder, sparking a series of riots and killings against Jews throughout Germany.


The birds in Konitz have begun singing backwards

their song a garbled wail


like Ernst serenading a girl

his neck, a gaping crimson grin


or the mourners’ kaddish

floating out of a synagogue in flames.


My people, we always end up burning

in the ricochet of our last moments on shower tile


in the still of the study before

the first stone splintered glass onto carpet.


Don’t you see,

we have been having Kristallnacht since


before Adolf took his first breath

after Ernst took his last.


The birds fly south

a warning of winter


and I do not know if they mean the boy or

the cold that will return his body to soil


that frost over his smirk

hidden in the reeds


like a lost ball, waiting for his father

to take him home to the rest of him.


They said it was a Kosher cut

neck, torso, each muscled arm


and I can recognize all the

shadows they make of us


my father’s in his kippah and tallit

my mother’s eyes, dark, perfume spiced


me, in my shabbat best

catching the blond boy’s eye from across the square


oh how history echoes my sweet

how it leaps through time and place


and we, we never have a martyr for it;

when my people die, it is always together.