A poem inspired by true, horrible events. The poem that Jacques Pressure wrote in March 1943 was inspired by the fact that his wife was arrested and would later be transported to the Sobibor death camp. At that time, he did not know that his wife had died. This is the translation of the Dutch poem Je lippen, die ik heb gekust to Your lips, that I have kissed.
About the poet
Presser (full name: Jacob Presser, referred to as J. Presser) was born on 24 February 1899 in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. At the time the Second World War started, he was shocked. When he saw, the Germans invading The Netherlands, he tried to commit suicide. This failed.
Presser, who studied history, art history and Dutch (succeeded cum laude), worked as a history teacher at the Amsterdam Vossius Gymnasium. Because of the measures that were taken to exclude Jews, he was forced to take another job at the Jewish Lyceum. Jews weren’t allowed to attend their jobs anymore in most cases.
At the beginning of 1943 Presser’s wife, Deborah Appel, was arrested and taken away to Camp Westerbork. This was a Dutch Durchgangslager (transportation camp) from where Jews were transported to other camps. One of them was the Sobibór extermination camp. Unlike other camps, like Auschwitz, there was only one reason that this camp was there: to kill those who arrived there. The camp was located in Poland (officially the occupied Second Polish Republic). Appel was one of the 200,000 to 250,000 European Jews who was brought to death by gas chamber in this camp. Sadly, the camp was closed only months before Appel would arrive there (17 October 1943).
At the time that Presser wrote this poem, he did not know the sad outcome. It was after the war that he learned about the death of his wife. At that time, he was in hiding in the Dutch town Overwoud. He would live to experience the liberation of that part of The Netherlands in April 1945.
After the war was over, Presser took on his old job at the Vossius Gymnasium. He was known also as a lecturer in political history, didactics and methodology of history at the University of Amsterdam. After retiring in 1969, he died on 30 April 1970 in Amsterdam.
Your lips, that I have kissed
By J. Presser
Your lips, that I have kissed,
Your hair, dark and messy,
And then your heart, your young heart,
Which I delightfully rested on…
I think: it had to be like this.
Sometimes it is as if you’ve died.
Who knows, how far away, in sorrow and pain,
We would have wandered,
Before we are together again.
Je lippen, die ik heb gekust
Door J. Presser
Je lippen, die ik heb gekust,
Je haren, donker en verward,
En dan je hart, je jonge hart,
Waaraan ‘k zo heerlijk heb gerust…
Ik denk: het heeft zo moeten zijn.
Soms is ‘t, of je bent gestorven.
Wie weet, hoe ver, in leed en pijn,
Wij zullen hebben rondgezworven,
Voordat wij weer tezamen zijn.