Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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8
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
niversary of Shakespeare’s birth; after four centuries his writings
are perhaps more vital and vibrant today than they were when
the bard penned them. There
are
works that do not die with
their authors.
Not only from the first book in the Bible, but from its very
first word,
Braishit,
books have been the throbbing heartbeats
of which the Jew was the understanding heart. However, unlike
the little child licking the honey on the
aleph bet
tablet, the
Jew throughout history was constrained to lick gall, bitter gall
and wormwood.
For corroboration we need but mention two
tannaim
who
were martyred during the Hadrianic persecutions—Rabbi Akiba
ben Yosef and Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon. According to
tradition the former, after three years of incarceration, was
subjected to excruciating torture before he expired with the
Shema
on his lips. The latter was burned at the stake, draped
with a Torah scroll the Romans had fiendishly wrapped around
him. As the flames seared the flesh of their revered teacher, his
anguished students rent the heavens with their wailing. His
words comforted them: “I see the parchment burning but the
letters are soaring heavenward.” This outcry became a paradigm
for the invincible faith the Jew somehow managed to muster
in his darkest hours.
The truculence vented against Jewish martyrs was directed
also against Jewish literature. Thus, both body and soul became
the targets of the oppressors. For a period of six centuries, from
the 13th to the 19th, frightful holocausts against Jewish books
were the rule rather than the exception. Ghettos were raided,
Jewish homes were pillaged, synagogues were plundered, libraries
were looted; their books were consigned to the pyre. Precious
Hebrew books and incunabula known to have been extant,
were irrevocably lost.
A melancholy commentary on our modern period is reflected
in an essay by the late Dr. Philip Friedman, erstwhile chief of
the Bibliographic Division of Yad Vashem and YIVO, titled
“The Fate of the Jewish Book during the Nazi Era”
(Jewish
Book Annual,
Vol. 15). He discusses the Nazi auto-da-fe against
Jewish books and other Jewish cultural treasures during World
War 2.
After some 8,000,000 books went up in flames, there was a
radical reversal in the Nazi policy. Hitler appointed the lecherous
Alfred Rosenberg to confiscate all the books, archives, and col­
lections still remaining in Nazi-occupied areas. These were to
have been placed in a museum to house the “remains” of the
Jewish people. Happily, thousands of volumes and some col­
lections pilfered by the infamous
Einsatzstab Reichsleiter