How it Happened


The crematorium’s ashes turned by tears to mud
oozed into my veins. First, Masha told me of long-
past joyful Vilna days, how her boyfriend’s twin
fooled her once in a dark movie house and stole
a kiss. The twins both died. She never explained–
only her distant cousins in Johannesburg remained.
There was no need of it. Even a child of seven
absorbed that something unspeakable occurred.

Twenty years later, thinking myself lucky
to have been born later, and in America,
I learned the hollow solace of this lie. No.
My forebears had died, by dozens, in Ukraine–
my great great grandfather Schmezell, tied
by his beard to a horse’s tail and dragged
until dead. In 1941, in Dobrinka–the little
town, they called it, though only the number
who escaped was small–murders were vast,
open as the sky, felling even those who had
avoided Stalin. Days before, my few cousins
rode on a strand of track east to Omsk the last
train bound for life and returned, via Gorky, in ’44,
to precious Dobra of ash. Their Ukranian neighbors
said how like Pogroms it was. Except in 1941,
the year of Dad’s Bar Mitzvah,
Hitler’s men shot all, saving the horse only
for the Zitser patriarch, for whom Dad was
named Saul. I don’t think he ever knew.

The poet gives grateful acknowledgment to Ruah for first publishing “How it Happened” in The People Bear Witness, which won Ruah’s 2000 chapbook award. The poem also appeared online in Summer 2000, at Kota Press.


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Alyssa A. Lappen is a U.S.-based investigative journalist. She is currently Managing Editor at the Leeb Group. A former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy (2005-2008); she is also a former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor (1993-1999), Working Woman (1991-1993) and Corporate Finance (1991). She served six of her 12 years at Forbes (1978-1990) as an Associate Editor. Ms. Lappen was also a staff reporter at The New Haven Register (1975-1977). During a decade as a freelance, her work appeared in Big Peace, Pajamas Media, Front Page Magazine, American Thinker, Right Side News, Family Security Matters, the Washington Times and many other Internet and print journals. Ms. Lappen also contributed to the Terror Finance Blog, among others. She supports the right of journalists worldwide to write without fear or restriction on politics, governments, international affairs, terrorism, terror financing and religious support for terrorism, among other subjects. Ms. Lappen is also an accomplished poet. Her first full-length collection, The Minstrel's Song, was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in April 2015. Her poems have been published in the 2nd 2007 edition of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and both 2007 issues of Wales' award-winning Seventh Quarry: Swansea Poetry Magazine. Dozens of her poems have appeared in print and online literary journals and books. She won the 2000 annual Ruah: A Journal of Spiritual Poetry chapbook award and has received a Harvard Summer Poetry Prize and several honorable mentions. Alyssa A. Lappen can be reached at alyssaalappen@alyssaalappen.org

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