Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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16
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
In overstepping this precarious balance, German authors have
shared some of the problems of the Jewish writers on the
holocaust; especially in relation to their work as art. W ith the
exception of two or three efforts, notably Elie Wiesel’s
N igh t
and Peter Weiss’ as yet un translated
Die E rm ittlung
(The I n ­
vestigation), the Jewish literature on Auschwitz has fallen far
short of art, while yet m aintaining power as humanized docu­
ment and history. If these works have failed as art, it is for the
same reasons as the German failure. T h e ir authors did no t
maintain the proper distance from their subject which emo­
tionally—and perhaps intellectually—overpowered them; they
fell into the pitfalls of rhetoric, polemics or sentimentalism.
Perhaps art in relation to subjects like Auschwitz or Hiroshima
needs to be redefined or eliminated entirely as a consideration.
Perhaps too, as Wiesel has suggested, only those indulging in
silence are really the effective spokesmen.
Thus the heirs of executioner and victim shared, perhaps
ironically, a similar difficulty in in terpre ting the experience. As
yet many of the German fictional works on the Nazi past are
recognizable more easily as social documents, moral proclama­
tions and political exhortations. Few are convincing as novels.
And even in terms of their social, moral and political importance,
their acknowledgment of guilt and their prognosis of the German
future, the novels are more sincere in in ten t than persuasive
in effect.
The Vacuum in German Let ters
When the Thousand Year Reich crumbled in 1945, there was
a huge vacuum in German letters. T h e great men, many of them
Jewish, had aged in exile and were re luc tan t to re tu rn ; those
who had become H itle r’s literary tools stood discredited and fell
into limbo. A handful who had resisted and suffered were broken
old men. T o compound the problem, there were now two Ger-
manies, and Berlin which had so valiantly sought to become the
cultural as well as political capital, lost both after an historically
brief reign. Deprived of writers and also of a center, German
letters made a slow recovery. Un til the emergence of Gun ther
Grass in the early sixties, and previously perhaps of Heinrich
Boll, Germany had no writers of note. Brecht was in East Ger­
many, engaging in experiments in stagecraft. W ha t achieve­
ments there were in German language theatre had to be credited
to two Swiss, Frisch and Diirrenmatt. T he Germans were busy
catching up with literary developments abroad, kept from them
during the years of darkness.
German letters needed young men. But what had the young
seen? They had seen and even participated in Nazism, often on