Week 27: Epitaph for Anton Schmidt, by Thom Gunn

Epitaph for Anton Schmidt

The Schmidts obeyed, and marched on Poland,
And there an Anton Schmidt, Feldwebel,
Performed uncommon things, not safe,
Nor glamorous, nor profitable.

Was the expression on his face
‘Reposeful and humane good nature’,
Or did he look like any Schmidt
Of slow and undisclosing feature?

I know he had unusual eyes
Whose powers no orders might determine,
Not to mistake the men he saw,
As others did, for gods or vermin.

For five months, till his execution,
Aware that action has its dangers,
He helped the Jews to get away,
– Another race at that, and strangers.

He never did mistake for bondage
The military job, the chances,
The limits; he did not submit
To the blackmail of his circumstance.

I see him in the Polish snow,
His muddy wrappings small protection,
Breathing the cold air of his freedom
And treading a distinct direction.

Thom Gunn

I don’t think this fine poem needs any comment from me.

2 thoughts on “Week 27: Epitaph for Anton Schmidt, by Thom Gunn

  1. Pingback: Week 27: Epitaph for Anton Schmidt, by Thom Gunn – a boy's head

  2. “Feldwebel” – equivalent in the US Army to Staff Sergeant, or the British Army / RAF to Sergeant. From wikipedia: “It is estimated that he saved as many as 300 Jews before his arrest in January 1942. He was executed on 13 April”.

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