By Erika Dreifus

with thanks to Steven M. Lowenstein


My father’s parents were Germans,

and they were Jews,

and they were born long ago,

one just before and one just after

the outbreak of the war

that was to end all wars,

but didn’t.


They came to New York in ’37 and ’38,

met and married and had a son.

From them, I have inherited

copies of Der Struwwelpeter

and Buddenbrooks,

a fondness for Riesling,

and pünktlichkeit.


Pünktlichkeit is beyond punctuality.

It is showing up ahead of time for movies,

meetings, and medical appointments;

submitting papers and assignments

safely before their deadlines;

and returning books to the library

at least one day prior to their due dates.


Pünktlichkeit is a preemptive way of life,

and not everyone admires it.

Even Rabbi Breuer of Frankfurt,

later of Washington Heights,

scolded guests who rang his doorbell

before the agreed-upon time.

“Zu früh ist auch nicht pünktlich.”


But pünktlichkeit served my grandparents well.

They left Germany before the Kristallnacht,

before the St. Louis, before their neighbors

were called to trains that went first to France

and then to Auschwitz. Who knows

how many reported to the railways

before the hour they were told?


(An earlier version of “Pünktlichkeit” was published in Moment magazine.)


  1. Ann on August 12th, 2013 9:51 am

    Erica, You’ve got the exact essence of punktlichkeit – I never inherited it- being on time is a constant challenge. The poem is amazing and the end extremely powerful.

  2. J Mesch on August 16th, 2013 6:10 am

    This poem has more impact than I was prepared for. I’m about to read it again. And maybe again. Thank you, Erika.

  3. Mike on November 9th, 2013 6:52 pm

    Lovely poem with a stunning end line.