For Dina Babbit, Painter, Holocaust Survivor
[A poem for today, the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht 1938]
Life between Disney & Mengele
– i.M. Dina Babbit (1923-2009)
Born Annemarie Dinah Gottlieb, Brno,
died Dina Babbit, California. In between
a life between Disney & Mengele. Your
first love a prisoner among the terrors at
Theresienstadt, the happiest year of your life.
At Birkenau your Snow White fresco
in the children’s barracks remembered
from that Prague cinema slyly entered
after removing the yellow star. Mengele
loved it for the witch & dwarves he was,
you his dark Princess, he no latent Prince,
the poisoned apple unspeakably his.
A flick of his baton & you’ve survived
Auschwitz, his bought watercolours
under your precise hand fixing faces
his inferior thought thought inferior,
unacknowledged mirrors of his self-disgust.
Between you those quick moments
of intimacy in his lab as he sits,
dispassionate under the quiet dispassion
of your painter’s gaze, coyly letting you
admire the flat round birthmark
only his wife had ever seen while
reminding you of ear tags on stuffed toys.
He laughs. Outside stacks smoke humans.
Such is the power of your art, this
twisted Prince spares your mother
from the chambers when you threaten
to fry yourself on the fence. Witty,
strong & sexy, there’s a scandalous
affair with a black muso in Paris
then Warner Brothers, married to Babbit,
animator on Snow White, princely
cartoonist of your childhood’s dream.
Your drawings work the aspects of yourself
that got you through: Wile E. Coyote,
Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, crazy favs
of all our early darkroom dreaming,
attend wild Hollywood parties, children,
divorce, repeated face lifts, bawdy jokes
in your eighties, all death & sex & life.
In the end the Museum in Auschwitz
declines your demand to return
your Gypsy portraits. If, in its opinion,
they belong to anyone, it is to the family
of Dr Josef Mengele, SS scientist
death doctor, dwarf.