Despite their merit and relevance, there are names that elude history's attention. In the case of Eliezer Aronowsky (1910-?) we are at a loss to explain why. Aronowsky, who immigrated to Cuba before the Holocaust, was our most prominent Jewish poet. He authored two books of poetry in Yiddish entitled Kuba: Lider un Poemes (Cuban Cantos) and Tropisch Licht (Tropical Light). Several of his poems were translated into Spanish by Andrés Piedra-Bueno, who also published a translation of Aronowsky's epic poem Maceo [Habana, Cuba: Ediciones Bené Berith Maimónides, 1950]. He was also a regular contributor to the Habaner Lebn, a Yiddish daily newspaper that was published in Cuba from 1932 to 1960.
Eliezer Aronowsky's greatest claim to fame, however, is as the author of the first book about and denunciation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, which was published in Cuba in 1939 (In kontsentratsye-lager Bukhenvald: pedzenlekhe ibelebungenfun Samuel Hilovitsh. Havana: Havaner lebn, 1939).
While perusing a copy of the Cuban-Jewish magazine Genesis (May 1950) dedicated to the centenary of the Cuban flag, I found the following poem by Aronowsky entitled "To the Cuban Flag," translated by Piedra-Bueno. Unfortunately, the original Yiddish version was not included.
What facts I could gather about him were obtained from bibliographies of Jewish poets or Holocaust writers. Not even the year of his death or place of birth is known. The few facts that we do know about him are enough, though, to attest to his love for his adopted country and his vision and courage as one of the world's first denouncers of the Holocaust.
A la Bandera Cubana
Blanca, como el fulgor del claro día;
azul, como el hechizo de la noche;
roja, como la hoguera del crepúsculo,
y tu estrella de plata, flor de flores.
Cifra de libertad, hace cien años
que ondeas sobre muchos corazones.
La roca es gris, pero tu suelo es verde;
y a esa esperanza virginal respondes...
Por ti, todas las razas se congregan
y en tu corona sus brillantes ponen,
porque la libertad que representas
es un brazo en firme para todos los hombres...
Fuiste borbada en la sangre heroica
al conjuro marcial de épicos sones,
tal como el bayamés que escribió el himno
y que murió por él, en recio bronce
Como en el río se refleja el cielo,
en tu cielo de amor brillan dos soles
-- Martí y Maceo --, que la patria alumbran
en una eternidad de resplandores...
Aunque las sombras rieguen sus semillas
en el surco ideal del horizonte,
por ti el pueblo se encuentra y levanta
y las cadenas coloniales rompe...
Por ti, la tierra su cristal desata
en musicales cauces y en inefables voces...
Al besarte dos mares, es como si Dios mismo
te besara, bandera, en beso de fulgores...
Traducción de Andrés de Piedra-Buena
I have highlighted the third stanza because it voices a sentiment which was widely felt by immigrants to our country for whom Morro Castle represented life and freedom no less than the Statue of Liberty did for Emma Lazarus. Before 1959, Cuba was a nation of immigrants, having received, proportionally, more immigrants in the years between 1920 and 1958 than its neighbor to the North. A third of Cuba's population of 6.6 million in 1958 were immigrants or first generation Cubans. These included refugees from Tsarist and Soviet Russia, the Republican and Nationalist sides in the Spanish Civil War, and Nazi Germany and the captive countries.
Fidel Castro forced many of these immigrants to leave Cuba after he had robbed them of their life's work, and now their descendents, newly reclaimed by Spain, will depart their country for the land of their ancestors, to begin new lives as citizens of a foreign country. Though this new disposition will mean freedom for millions of our countrymen, it will rob our country of the people that it needs for its reconstruction after Communism. This, too, is Castro's legacy to our country. With the hemisphere's lowest birth rate and one of the world's highest rates of abortion and suicide, and, now, the probable immigration of 3-4 million Cubans, the question may well be asked, how long before our country is wholly depopulated?
At moments when we despair about the fate of country, and the last 50 years are a rosary strung with those moments, it is good to refresh our souls with the poetry of those whose faith in our country's future was boundless because so did her horizons seem then. In Aronowsky's ode we see the great importance that our national symbols and heroes had for Cuba's immigrants. As these were for them the most accessible expressions of their new sense of national identity and patriotic fervor, so, too, should our national symbols represent for us today in the diaspora our firmest anchor to our country and most sacred reliquary of our love for it.
The desecration of our most important national symbol, which would once have seemed inconceivable, has became no more than a joke to Babalú's anti-Cuban "patriots." Those who obsessed so much about the symbolism of "Che" t-shirts could not see that tearing in half the star on Cuba's flag or serrating its stripes was an act of desecration.
One cannot love Cuba and hate her people.
One cannot love Cuba and insult her flag.