This poem was written by Polish Jewish forced laborer Nastia Kronenberg (later Wanda Rotbart) while she was working at the Hugo-Schneider AG (HASAG) munitions factory in Leipzig, Germany. Scrawled on the back of an official form meant to record her productivity, these brief lines express a great deal of emotion using few words. Even the paper used for the poem conveys details of Kronenberg's persecution.
Kronenberg's mother and sister were deported from the Warsaw ghetto to their deaths at Treblinka, but young Nastia managed to evade capture until after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had been crushed and the ghetto was in flames. She was taken to work in a HASAG munitions factory in Nazi-occupied Poland before being transferred to a newly constructed HASAG camp in Leipzig.1
Like many other German manufacturers, HASAG paid the SS for regular access to camp inmates' forced labor. Many thousands of forced laborers worked in the company's network of munitions factories. By the end of World War II, HASAG had become one of the largest exploiters of forced labor in the Third Reich.
Established in June 1944, the women's HASAG camp in Leipzig was surrounded by guard towers and an electric fence. Thousands of women from all over Europe were housed in an old factory building filled with wooden bunk beds. Although sanitary conditions were better here than in the camps of Nazi-occupied Poland, this was only because the authorities feared that unhygienic conditions in Leipzig could cause contagions to spread from the inmates to the German civilians working in the factory. Living and working conditions were still poor, guards and kapos beat prisoners regularly, and at least one hundred women were sent to Bergen-Belsen after being deemed unfit to work.
Like many other camps and ghettos, however, the HASAG camp in Leipzig also had an active cultural life. There were several noted authors detained there, and the women sometimes staged poetry recitals, short plays, and folk dances in the barracks. Women from different ethnic and national groups interacted and learned from one another. Inmates taught each other foreign languages, and prisoner groups performed music, staged mock fashion shows, and celebrated national holidays.2
In April 1945, the factory shut down and the evacuation of the camp began. Kronenberg made her way back toward Poland, where she still feared antisemitism enough to adopt an assumed name and hide her Jewish identity. With her entire family killed during the Holocaust, Kronenberg decided to immigrate to Brazil with a close friend's family. She ultimately settled in Chicago to be close to family members living in the United States.