Blood Sisters, by Sheila Jacob

A belly-cramp wakes her
before daybreak.
Before the guards arrive
and herd them into the yard
for morning roll-call.

She clambers across
the top bunk,
stands up too quickly
and night’s scald of blood
streams down her legs.

Anna’s watching, frowning.
Sharp-tongued Anna
who prattles in her sleep.
Anna, whispering Martha,
child, don’t cry.

She’s kneeling, lifting
a mattress then padding
to Martha’s side
and filling her hands
with strips of cloth.

Torn secretly, she says,
from her underslip.
They’re used and stained
but she washed each rag
as best she could

and kept them safe.
Thought they’d be needed
again; hoped her womb
would obey the tug
of a clouded moon.


In Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps, menstruating women had to use any scraps of paper and cloth they could find. Young girls were helped to manage the trauma of this, and a first period, by older women, a vast proportion of whom suffered amenorrhoea.

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