Though reports of the Nazi campaign to murder Europe's Jews reached the United States by late 1942, the news did not immediately produce widespread calls for US action or intervention.1 Among Jewish Americans—many of whom had family abroad or knew members of their communities who had fled Europe—there was a spectrum of reactions, including anger, disbelief, and grief.2 This poem, written by Noah Golinkin, illustrates how one American Jewish student tried to bear witness to the horrors unfolding in Europe.
When he wrote the poem in 1942–1943, Golinkin was studying to be a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.3 During this time, he helped found the Seminary Student Committee to Save European Jewry. The group organized an interfaith conference with Christian seminary students in February 1943, and they lobbied the Synagogue Council of America to sponsor a six-week period of mourning for the Jewish victims of the Nazi regime.4
Although he was an active community organizer, Golinkin also responded to these events introspectively. The featured prayer is a striking example of how many American Jews reacted to news of the Holocaust with inner reflection and prayer.. It begins with an appeal, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" quoting Psalm 22, a well-known verse used in both Christian and Jewish religious traditions.5
Golinkin's prayer is a reworking of this Psalm, blending direct quotes and fresh lines into a new interpretation. The author asks God to "hold back this evil" and to "deliver us not into the power of the tyrants," praying on behalf of all Jewish people. Throughout the composition, God appears distant from humanity, unwilling to intervene to stop the atrocities. For observant Jews at the time, faith could be both a comfort and a harsh reminder of God's apparent absence.6
Reflecting American awareness of the Holocaust, Golinkin writes that the Nazis want to "blot out” the Jews' very "existence." He also expresses anguish that European Jews were being "treated as sheep at the slaughter." This phrase, originally from the Bible, became associated with criticisms of supposed Jewish inaction, most often in regard to the relatively few Jewish uprisings in ghettos. After the war, the phrase became associated with the controversial myth of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust.7
Golinkin's prayer was soon adopted by the Synagogue Council of America and invoked in Jewish communities throughout the country, which demonstrates its resonance as a religious response to the Holocaust. In contrast to the public activism of American students in this period, Golinkin's work is a meditative ritual that drew on his ongoing spiritual training. For Golinkin, like many religious people in this period, anti-Nazi politics and personal religious faith were intertwined.