Here is a fragment from Zbigniew Herbert’s poem “Dispatches from a Besieged City” (orig. “Raport z oblężonego Miasta”). Herbert wrote this poem during Poland’s 1981-1983 Martial Law as an allegory for that event, using imagery from the 1939 siege of Warsaw and the 1944 Uprising to tell a larger story of nations that are under attack. Do we know of any nations that are under attack today?
Translated excerpts from Herbert’s poem:
Too old to carry a weapon and fight like the others —
I was assigned by their grace the chronicler’s role
I write — do not know for whom — about the siege
I have to be exact but I do not know when the raid precisely began
two hundred years ago last December September maybe yesterday at dawn
all of us here ail of the loss of the sense of time
I write as well as I can to the rhythm of endless weeks
Monday: the warehouses are empty the rat became a unit of currency
Tuesday: the mayor has been murdered by unknown perpetrators
Wednesday: talks of a ceasefire the enemy interned our emissaries
we don’t know of their whereabouts read: their place of slaughter
Thursday: after a stormy meeting the majority rejected
the spice merchants’ proposal for unconditional surrender
Friday: the beginning of plague Saturday: N.N. the steadfast defender
committed suicide Sunday: no water we repelled an attack at the Eastern Gate
in the evening I like to wander around the borders of the City
along the borders of our uncertain freedom
I look down at the ant heaps of their troops their lights
I listen to the noise of the drums the barbaric screams
The selected passages above feature a speaker who reports on the everyday conditions of the siege in a resigned and matter-of-fact way. Herbert then shifts the speaker’s tone, over the course of several additional free-verse stanzas, into bitterness and then anger upon noting the ghastly precociousness of the city’s children.
Herbert’s speaker then reaches an epiphany to resist despite the lack of hope. He gets there by connecting his situation to that of history’s other besieged people who have always been ignored, or at best condescendingly pitied, by the rest of the world. He concludes that defending the real and the metaphoric ruins is all that’s left to do.
In his Harvard lectures that he later compiled and published in a volume titled “The Witness of Poetry,” Czesław Miłosz said that in reading the scribbled notes of concentration camp inmates, he noticed that it was not educated adults, but rather children who most vividly described their conditions.
One of the worst thing a child can feel is a recognition that he is abandoned by trusted adults. And in thinking about cities under siege from a child’s — or in this case a teenage girl’s — point of view, see a German girl’s now-famous YouTube video, which was banned from Facebook. The brave 16-year-old girl, named Bibi Wilhailm, makes a heartfelt appeal for help. She also denounces the adults and authority figures who have abandoned her to the terror of the refugees.
Her video is at the end of this post. Here is a transcript of her words from the English subtitles:
16 y/o German girl talks about muslim immigration, destruction of her own country (Engl. subs) [title of the YouTube video]
Hello, you can read the newspapers but this video is about the real situation in Germany. I would like to tell everyone about this on Youtube and Facebook. I am almost 16. I would like everyone to know what is going on, what I am authentically feeling at this moment.
And I am so scared everywhere. For example, if my family and I go out together, or if I see a movie with my friends. Usually I stay at home, but sometimes I stay out until 6 pm in winter, and it is so scary. It is just very hard to live day-to-day life as a woman.
I just want to say that I am not a racist. But one day, a terrible thing happened at the supermarket. I ran all the way home. I was so frightened for my life. There’s no other way to describe it.
My aunt and her friend have said you have to grow up. Why should we, children, have to grow up in such fear? It’s not just me, my friends too. You can see on Facebook, a 17 year old attacked, a 15 year old attacked, two 12-year olds attacked, so many. It is really so sad that this is happening … because of YOU PEOPLE.
I cannot understand why they do this. But more importantly, I cannot understand why Germany is doing nothing! Why is Germany standing by, watching, and then doing nothing? Please explain, why. Men of Germany, these people are killing your children, they are killing your women. We need your protection. We are so scared, we don’t want to be frightened to go to the grocery store alone after sunset. The politicians live alone in their villas, drink their cocktails, and do nothing. They do nothing! I do not know what world they live in, but please, people, please help us! Please, do something! I cannot understand why this is happening. One day, my friend and I were walking down the street, and a group of Arabs were protesting and demonstrating. They shouted, “Allah! Allah! Allah is the one God! Kill those infidels! Allah Allah!” What should I do? Should I wear a burka? Why should I have to convert to Islam?
It’s fine if you believe in Allah, but why do you want to make everyone else believe in Allah too? I just think it would be better if there were no religion. Stop trying to make everyone else believe in your God when they do not want to.
Please, people of Germany. Do something!
When I try to tell the authorities about what has happened, they hold their hand up towards me and they say it is a problem and then ignore it. and they laugh. It is unfair. They laugh at us. They say we are dumb. They think this not only of me, but of the entire state of Germany. They don’t care about our fear. Please help us. This is an emergency! There are more and more of them.
One time in summer, the Muslims said we were sluts for walking outside in a t-shirt.
Yes, we were wearing t-shirts. It’s summer!
Another day, I was wearing this. My friend and I purchased it while shopping hehe. If we feel like wearing it, we will wear it! And you Muslims have no right to physically assault or rape us for it! God willing, never in my life. You have no right to attack us because we are wearing t-shirts. You also have no right to rape.
The life of Germany has changed because these people cannot integrate. We give them so much help. We support them financially and they do not have to work. But they only want more babies and more welfare and more money. Men of Germany, please, patrol the streets and protect us. Do this for your women and your children. If you do that, I believe that we will have a chance.
This sort of action would be wonderful. We would be so grateful and thankful. So many thanks, if steadily, more men would come to protect us. We are so scared.
I am so upset about what Merkel has done.
Thank you, Angela Merkel, for killing Germany! I have no more respect for you, Merkel. I do not think you know what you have done. You do not see how our lives have changed. Open your eyes! Is this normal? Should I, a 16-year old who is almost 17, be so scared to walk outside my house? No, it is not normal. You have killed Germany!
This is the truth. We are no longer allowed to walk outside. We are no longer allowed to wear our clothes. We are no longer allowed to live the German life. This is the sad truth.
I think it’s about time to end this video. I believe I have given a full account from a normal person. I hope others can see this and understand.
I only want to end with one message: Men, please, help your women. Help your children. I am so scared. My friends have the same fear. We are shocked that this has happened. I hope this video can convince you, and that this terrible events can stop.