Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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— T
h e
itera ture
person and its eyes had a lustre which wasn’t that of chil­
Hofei cursed softly, “Small children get scared, and then
they holler. The devil take it.” He stared at the child for a
long time. “Maybe . . . maybe he can’t holler at all.” He
got hold of the child’s shoulders and shook it gently. “You
mustn’t holler, d’you hear? Or else the SS will come.”
Suddenly the child’s face contorted with fear. It wrenched
itself free, threw itself back into the case and made itself as
small as possible, hiding its face with its hands.
“He knows what’s what,” exclaimed Pippig. To test his
assumptions he shut the case. They listened. Everything
was quiet.
“Exactly,” Pippig repeated, “he knows what’s what.”
He opened the case again. The child had not moved.
Kropinski lifted it up and it hung between his hands like a
twisted-up insect. The three looked at the creature in con­
sternation. With its legs and head pulled in the child
appeared as if it had just been torn from the womb or like
a beetle feigning death.
But the Jewish child is not to be seen merely as an addi­
tional burden upon the underground—a further mouth to be
fed and an appalling security-risk; its function in the story is
also symbolic. At the end, when the prisoners liberate the camp
ahead of the advancing Americans and stream out of the camp-
gates they carry the child triumphantly above their heads. This
I take to mean that they have managed to preserve the symbol
of innocence and humanity inviolate under conditions of appal­
ling degradation; had they failed to shoulder the additional
burden presented by the child, had they let no other laws than
those of expediency and survival govern them, the underground
would have allowed themselves to be dragged down to the level
of the system whose victims they were.
The imagery of the Jewish child occurs over and over again
in the literature of remorse. In
Das Brandopfer
(The Burnt
Offering) by Albrecht Goes the central character is a German
woman who acts as the “Judenmetzge” (Jews’ butcher) in a
small town in 1942. Every Friday evening after the “normal”
shoppers have all gone, wearers of the Yellow Star are allowed
to purchase their meagre meat-ration. On one such occasion an
SS thug bursts in accompanied by a “correct” Nazi official.
And now I see him smash the little parcel out of the old
man’s hand. “Mausche,” he shouts, “don’t over-eat. Other­
wise you’ll be too heavy to go up to heaven. You’ll be off
on the 15th—swish, like a bird through the air.”