The Poet Community

Dr. Posner | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

I was 15
When I heard the news:
Dr. and Mrs. Posner had died.
It was the first suicide,
I personally experienced.

The loss of our German, Jewish pediatrician
Was felt
in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights with the largest number of
German Jews
in one American neighborhood.

To imagine that Dr. Posner, like all German Jews,
was nothing more than a poisonous blemish
on the pure skin of the Nazi “Master Race.”

It was to this compassionate Dr. Posner
to whom we entrusted our precious children.
He seemed, especially to our American friends,
to be of a very different breed
in the medical profession:
He made house calls,
regardless of the time of day or night, often
looking in on an ailing, aging grandmother.

Dr. Posner’s patients, already traumatized,
found themselves in a strange country
with a new language and culture; yet
the old language slowed down progress,
reminding them of their pre-Hitler, comfortable
German life.

The emotional and physical health of the children
extended to that of the parents.
It was Dr. Posner
Who set them at ease, listening to family concerns
related to a child’s adjustment in school,
to the family’s anxiety over money,
to a mother’s new dual role
as both mother and working woman.

Families flocked to Dr. Posner.
His practice grew.
But money meant nothing to him
Only work meant everything to him.
But that work included a self-imposed mission
to be there for his fellow Jewish refugees.

I — who had made friends easily, who loved my
American freedom
both loved Dr. Posner and hated him.
His old school, entrenched methods of treatment
infuriated me. As a child
I came down with every conceivable childhood illness;
In his heavily accented English Posner
would proclaim; with an authority
that silenced contradiction and sealed
my imprisonment with the words: “Fieber frei,”
free of fever for one week before returning to school and friends.
It is with irony and childhood selfishness
That I could not see the caring nature of our Dr. Posner.

When age rendered him less able to fulfill his
duties, unable to visit his young patients,
He took his own life.

Dr. and Mrs. Posner (I never knew their first names)
took Poison together.
She died shortly afterwards,
but Dr. Posner stayed alive for several days,
semi-conscious, haunted, as we believed,
by mourning the loss of his faithful ,
loving partner of 52 years.
There were no children.

We were his children.
We were his legacy.
He would never be forgotten.

A page long obituary ran in the local paper
It said… what we all felt…: Life without him
would never be the same.
Dr. Posner set a standard of compassionate medicine,
Unparalleled in our lives
and certainly rare
in the lives of those who would come afterward.

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