The Leather Suitcase

This is a poem by Tom Berman, the great-grandson of Lazar Igel, the first Rabbi of the Czernowitz Temple. Tom died a few days ago in the Galapagos islands; it was a life-long dream of him to go there. Tom survived Nazi dictatorship over huge parts of Europe through the “Kindertransport” to England. His family was erased. The poem reflects this. Tom immigrated to Israel and became an internationaly known scientist. He survived the time of persecution by 68 years.

Tomb of Lazar Igel at Czernowitz Jewish cemetery

Tomb of Lazar Igel at Czernowitz Jewish cemetery

The Leather Suitcase
by Tom Berman

They don’t
make suitcases
like that
any more.

Time was,
when this case
was made
solid, leather,
heavy stitching
with protective edges
at the corners.

Time was,
when voyage meant
train, steamship
distances unbridgeable
waiting for a thinning mail
weeks, then months,
then nothing

Children’s train,
across the Reich
stops
and starts again…

Holland
a lighted gangplank,
night ferry to gray-misted
sea-gulled Harwich
again the rails
reaching flat across
East Anglia,
to London

in my bedroom
the suitcase,
a silent witness
with two labels

“Wilson Station, Praha”
“Royal Scot, London-Glasgow”

Leather suitcase
from a far-off country,
Czechoslovakia,
containing all the love
parents could pack
for a five year old
off on a journey
for life.

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4 thoughts on “The Leather Suitcase

  1. Thank you so much, Christian, for sharing this with us. It’s a poem made for travellers (in time and space), like you and me and so many others from Czernowitz!

  2. We studied microbiology together under Salvador Luria at MIT and independently researched plankton biochemistry and physiology for 40 years. We saw each other from time-to-time at meetings and at different research institutes through the world. He always an good man with inspiring thoughts and insights. I’ll miss him. Ted Packard, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

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