One of the more popular ways of the Germans extinguishing the Jews was through what Wiesel described as the “crematory (35),” where they burned the Jews alive. In the procession toward the flames, Wiesel is blunt in how he describes how he was “gradually drawing closer to the ditch” and all the while counting his steps and bidding “farewell to father, to the whole universe (Wiesel 31).” He saw his life slowly being taken away from him and everyone around him was crying and praying to their Lord to spare them of the tumultuous death. Comparatively, Hudgins illustrates the procession to the fire as “Inside the gate is a small garden and someone is on his knees… to see which ones have set and will soon wither, clinging to a green tomato as it swells.” Each Jew was desperately hoping to cling to this “green tomato” of life long enough to be saved.
The picture of the garden that Hudgins uses is important for the poem because poets who were neither victims nor survivors of the Holocaust should be compelled to resurrect and purify a language decimated by atrocity – it was what Lawrence Langer called “a gardener in the greenhouse of our verbal and spiritual resources to express and transcend the would of atrocity (Friedman, 549).” Therefore, it was vital that Hudgins utilized the example of the garden to portray an image that could be potentially interpreted as the devastation of the Holocaust, but was still not too descriptive for the reader – thus, adhering to the rules of Holocaust poetry.
After the victims of the Holocaust were seen in the poem as being in a garden, they then started “cooling their hands in the damp earth” to relieve the pain of the circumstance. At this point, Hudgins abruptly transitions from being within the scene and talking about the victims to being completely detached onlookers that “Even from our height… can’t tell which are guards, which prisoners.” The reader can only see the horrors from the perspective of a photograph and are merely “watchers.” The transition from being within the scene to being only viewers shows the reader that Hudgins is admitting that this poem is a portrayal of the Holocaust through the eyes of a non-survivor and someone who was removed from the circumstance altogether.
Critics reason that there are many reasons why non-affiliated poets like Hudgins felt it necessary to write about the Holocaust. One was to give testimony to the lives and cultures that were being annihilated, to bear witness as a means of assuring some kind of immortality for those who had not even a grave or marker to show they had once lived (Friedman 548). Hudgins does this in the last line of his poem when he remarks that “if we had bombs we’d drop them” on the concentration camp. This idea can be interpreted by Wiesel’s line in Night that “Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life (Wiesel 57).”
It can be said that Hudgins knew that he could not do anything to change what happened in the past, but felt such remorse for society’s lack of help at the time. Through his poem he was not only, in a sense, apologizing for that lack of attention and help given to Holocaust victims, but also was saying that if it were happening today, he and society would do what they could to alleviate some of the suffering the victims endured – he wants to have given the Holocaust victims the “joy” and “confidence in life” of which Wiesel talked. “We agonize over events we can no longer influence, deaths we can no longer stop, and something in us cries for a chance to give life to the dead (Lang 20).” The way in which Hudgins does this serves as an advantage to his credibility as a poet who was writing from a removed viewpoint because he added the unique twist of bringing in the reader and him as “watchers” who can only ruminate about the agony endured by the victims.
As a poet, Hudgins took a large risk in writing Holocaust poetry because in order to do so he had to subtract something from the crude reality for the sake of heightened effect (Lang 23). Instead of writing bluntly as Elie Wiesel did from a survivor viewpoint, he had to use imagery to illustrate the concentration camp with the use of shadows, gardens, and tomatoes. Therefore, it can be difficult to read this poetry and even more difficult to judge it by ordinary literary criteria (Friedman 550). However, when this poem is read for concise understanding, the reader can truly begin to see the intent and success of Hudgins’ portrayal.
He may have taken a risk in writing it, but ultimately created a moving poem that clearly adheres to the “unwritten rules” of Holocaust poetry while at the same time contains a unique use of poetic license. “Air View of an Industrial Scene” takes Holocaust literature like Elie Wiesel’s Night and turns it into an account of the “events beyond the imagination’s power to conceive, horrors unprecedented in history, horrors beyond the power of language to articulate (Freidman 547).”
Friedman, Saul. Holocaust Literature: A Handbook of Critical, Historical, and Literary Writings. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993.
Lang, Berel. Writing and the Holocaust. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1988.
Moses, Rafael. Persistent Shadows of the Holocaust: The Meaning to Those Not Directly Affected. Connecticut: International Universities Press, Inc., 1993.
Parmet, Harriet. The Terror of Our Days: Four American Poets Respond to the Holocaust. London: Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp., 2001.