The Case of Otto Schwarzkopf

The 15th of April 2015, marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen concentration camp by British soldiers.

The Case of Otto Schwarzkopf was written by Ralph after reading a poem published in The Guardian some years ago by the concentration camp survivor and poet Schmuel Huppert.

The Case of Otto Schwarzkopf
Poem by Schmuel Huppert. Adapted by Ralph McTell.
(Original song can be found on his album Sand in Your Shoes. Leola Music 1995)

The case of Otto Schwarzkopf has reached Jerusalem,
The letters A.L.L.1 branded in black,
Are burnt into the leather and there’s a Prague address,
A faded hotel sticker on the back,

Which shows the Tyrol prayer shawl draped in snow,
Blue skies, pine trees, a lake,
Were you alone, was this a family outing?
Did you read or did you swim on this life-affirming break,
Did you climb or simply walk below the mountain?

The case gapes open wide its emptiness a soundless cry,
We pause to gaze at it, at you, through time,
There are socks, the toothbrush,
The shirts and underwear, the family snaps, the works of Heinrich Heine.

In winter 1944 the German order came,
Take what you think you’ll need you’re moving East,
And don’t make any fuss just leave everything to us,
Twenty kilos or just one suitcase each.

And now its here on show its warm-handle cold,
The leather cracked its metal clasps corroded,
As the steam trained pulled away from Theresienstadt that day,
Did it rain or did you weep as it was loaded?

Reference your trip/.A.L.L.1/ cattle truck as per specification.

The live stock rule allows thirty pigs or seven cows,
One hundred and twenty Jews for transportation

The case of Otto Schwarzkopf has made its way without him,
To Jerusalem in anger guilt and sorrow,
Pray humanity can hear what it cannot see through tears,
The cry of yesterday before tomorrow

Dr Mike Cohen recently uploaded Ralph’s song to YouTube and it can be heard by clicking here.