A Homestead Poem Takes an Unexpected Journey

Poe Solomon (1887-1940) was the eldest of four brothers who made up M. Solomon & Sons, a Baltimore-based clothing manufacturing and retailing business. The firm’s Homestead branch opened around 1918 and lasted through the mid-1950s.

The Daily Messenger, April 9, 1925

Poe and his youngest brother Morris (1892-1940) joined the army during World War I. Neither went overseas. Morris served in the Quartermaster Corps, a common assignment for Jewish men in the clothing business. Poe began in the Infantry, but illness kept him stateside. When he recovered, he joined the Medical Corps. His obituary later related, “It was while he was in the army that he began to write verse, which was published in army publications, newspapers and magazines.”

Though neither had the opportunity for brave heroics in battle, their immigrant father, Max, was very proud of them, and because of his pride I can tell you this story. You see, Poe’s poems disappeared. But when the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Welfare Board put out the call for Jewish soldiers to submit the details of their service “as a contribution to American and Jewish history,” Max filled out the forms on behalf of his sons. And with the forms, he enclosed a letter about his son’s poetry, along with the only two copies of Poe’s poems that I can find.

Max Solomon’s letter to the Office of Jewish War Records

“The Silver Chevron” praises the men at the army hospital with whom Poe served. It begins:

Valorous sons of Liberty
Altho you did not cross the sea,
The aid you lend to the very end,
Bro’t us Peace with Victory

“Beyond Verdun” Poe wrote in tribute to his friend Zadoc Morton Katz (1890-1918). Three years Poe’s junior, Morton was a member of another successful family clothing business in Baltimore. He was killed in action on September 27, 1918 at the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive while on a reconnoitering expedition in no man’s land. His friends recalled him as “a man of extraordinary ability and character, a fearless soldier and one of the most beloved of men in his regiment.”

“Beyond Verdun” considers Morton’s sacrifice from a Jewish perspective. Poe wrote the poem in answer to the war’s most famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” To the indelible image, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row,” he reminds us:

And now and then there is a Zion
Atop a grave the same as thine
And, like the crosses, spread their rays
To all the earth in many ways

PVT 1CL Zadoc Morton Katz’s marker in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, a lone Star of David in a sea of crosses.

 

The copy of “Beyond Verdun” that Poe’s father sent to the Office of Jewish War Records.

Thanks to Poe’s father, I found this poem almost a century after Poe wrote it. Last year, I shared it on Facebook for Veterans Day. A great discussion ensued. Local historian Susan Morris and genealogist Lara Diamond filled in Morton’s biography. Rabbi Daniel Yolkut pointed out that the Hebrew word “Zion” is traditionally used to refer to a grave marker—would Poe have known that?

But one friend took it a step further. Razelle Weinstein, a teacher in Israel, got Poe’s poem approved for inclusion in the English literature module of the Bagrut, Israel’s graduation exam. Thanks to her, Israeli students will have the opportunity to read and reflect on Poe’s imagery. Morton’s name and his sacrifice, Poe’s name and his poetry—all will live on in the memory of the Jewish people.

In noble Israel this bit’s enhanced
By Homestead’s son, beyond Verdun

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