World War II decimated many lives and many lands, but the most tragic and unforgettable atrocity

was the Holocaust. Concentration camps were organized throughout Germany and the rest of Europe in order to carry out the mass slaughter of Slavs, Jews, and anyone not of Hitler s Aryan Race . Though historians can describe the terrible living conditions of the concentration camps, none can truly convey the atmosphere that permeated one. William Heyen s poem Riddle can. Through extended metaphor, the speaker in the poem expresses the callousness with which the concentration camps were run by comparing them to farms. In lines seventeen through twenty four, each line begins with the word and some , which creates a strong connection between each line, and the basis for the extended metaphor. Each line is linked to the one preceding it by the conjunction and which states that each of the groups of people, as well as the activities in which they are involved, are connected. In addition, by beginning each line with and some the speaker emphasizes the number of people involved in the execution of the holocaust (17-24). A specific figure is not stated, which leaves the audience free to imagine whatever number of people they wish. However, because the word some is repeated with such frequency, the speaker communicates the idea that many, many people were involved, thereby ensuring that the number imagined is a large one, and furthering the idea that concentration camps are like farms; large numbers are needed in order to run them. In each of lines seventeen through twenty four, the words and some are followed by a verb or phrase connected to farming; herded in line seventeen; spread the ashes in line nineteen; planted in line twenty one; cleared in line twenty three. The repetition of the idea of farming through the myriad of verbs conveys the idea that holocaust victims were treated like farm animals. For example, in line seventeen, and some herded them in , the antecedent of some is men (15), and the antecedent of them is the Jews (12). In essence, the men herded the Jews in . The word herding

specifically denotes relocating animals. However, in the context of line seventeen, the men are not moving true animals ; they are moving people (Jews) who are treated like animals. The act of herding involves large numbers of stock, further comparing the holocaust to farming, and more effectively expressing the holocaust s cruelty; human beings are not beasts, no matter their race or gender, or even intelligence. The metaphor is further illuminated in line eighteen, and some dropped the pellets . In Nazi concentration camps, pellets containing noxious gas were used to murder vast groups of inmates. On farms though, pellets can be anything from alfalfa pellets to wood pellets to fish food pellets (ucdavis). Though at first these items appear quite different one used for construction and the other for destruction by extending the metaphor contained in line seventeen, it becomes clear that the two

ideas are, in actuality, quite similar. Hitler and his compatriots believed that, by exterminating Jews, they were purifying, or constructing, a better world, like a farmer constructs better crops by eliminating deficiencies in his soil; both goals executed through the use of pellets . In this way, the murder of the Jews is understated through its comparison to farming, which in turn amplifies the poem s underlying irony; a constructive resource is transformed into a destructive one. Where line eighteen expresses the murder of the Jews, line nineteen, by extending the comparison seen in the two lines preceding, expresses the idea that the Jews were cremated and used as fertilizer. Line nineteen states and some spread the ashes . Ashes can be acquired in only one way: from burning something. As such, to attain the ashes named in line nineteen, something must have been burned. On farms, ashes are used as a fertilizer and come mostly from wood fires, but any source of organic material can be used (ucdavis, alibaba). Human carcasses are organic matter. Because the spreading of ashes occurs directly after what has been established as the death of the Jews (line eighteen), the ashes must have come from the carcasses of the deceased Jews; they are the only thing

named in the poem thus far that would be burned. It could be said that the shoes or the skin lampshade could have been burned, but it is unlikely since the preposition from followed by the name of a concentration camp implies that the objects have left one location to travel to another. If the receiving end wanted ashes, the ashes would have been produced before departing as they are less odiferous and easier to transport than crates of rotting skins and shoes. Due to the structure of the poem, and of the individual lines, the Ashes must belong to the deceased Jews. In addition, the ashes are not dumped they are spread . Similarly, fertilizer is not dumped, but spread so as to increase its effectiveness. Ashes are a type of fertilizer. In addition, although the speaker has, thus far, been open and abrasive with his criticism of the holocaust, the word spread is much more gentle than dumped . Its use here implies that the Nazi grave dispersers had at least a respectful manner as regards the ashes, if not a tender one. The gentler word spread not only expresses a slight amount of respect for the Jews, but furthers the idea of the ashes being used as fertilizer. The speaker simultaneously acknowledges that some of the Nazis held troubled consciences, and condemns them for conforming and viscously violating human rights. Through the extended metaphor of farms to Nazi concentration camps, the callousness of the holocaust is revealed. The Jews were treated like animals on a farm, and such animals are never named or recognized as individuals lest affection for the condemned take root, making their death painful to the executioner. The animals were killed by pellets. An ironic situation seeing as, on an actual farm, the pellets would have been used constructively. In the concentration camps, they facilitated mass slaughter; a destructive application. Yet, in the eyes of the Nazis, such slaughter facilitated the isolation of the Aryan race their version of a better world. The ashes of the Jews were used as fertilizer, a critical part of a farm. Without it, nothing else can grow. However, fertilizer is essentially just poop; the Jews were literally treated like crap. Yet, due the specific diction used in line nineteen, a minimal

amount of regret and respect the Nazis felt for the Jews is revealed. The extended metaphor in Riddle is a voice for those who lost loved ones in the holocaust, and for those who were lost in the holocaust.

Works Cited Arp, Thomas R., and Greg Johnson. Perrine's Sound and Sense. Boston, MA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005. Print. "Cameroon Ash Fertilizer." Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <>. "Wood Ashes as Fertilizer." University of California. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <>.

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