He called his older sister Mama
but the photo in his hallway
was the same as on my grandma’s shelf
of their mother, killed in Birkenau.
He wouldn’t say how he survived the camp,
because Nazis favored blonds
because he was only 20 and fit to work
because he cleaned a capo’s room each day
for an extra piece of bread.
My cousins gleaned it was because
he dug graves outside the crematorium
and didn’t pry gold teeth from gassed bodies,
marched the Auschwitz death march
from Poland to central Germany
and didn’t die
of hunger or exhaustion or from cold.
He marched when war was over,
home to Romania,
joined the underground, smuggling Jews
on boats from Transylvania to Palestine.
He saw his family, the last time, getting off
the train. Next day, a Nazi pointed,
See the smoke coming from that oven?
That’s your mother.