Page 83 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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68
K
a h n
— F
r e n c h
-J
ew ish
W
r iter s
Jewish critics heaped unwarranted abuse on Ikor, who had
written a highly readable and essentially good novel. Too much
was made of errors in ritual and Jewish customs. The presence of
a Jewish pimp offended them; other portraits, they argued, evoke
an ever latent anti-Jewishness. But some criticism was justified.
The one authentic Jew, the patriarch, was painted in gross,
unsympathetic lines. There was no positive content anywhere
in the Judaism depicted, and there appeared little sympathy for
Jewish survival. While there was a modicum of truth to all these
allegations, the naturalistic tenure and climate of the novel
did not easily admit of other portraiture. Ikor sought to detach
himself from his story as much as was humanly possible.
Yankel, his chief character, is certainly a real person, a quint-
essentially good man, but not without a generous portion of
weaknesses and foibles. Apparently discouraged by the vehe-
ment attacks, Ikor has since eschewed Jewish themes. His later
novels have been undistinguished, suggesting that in depicting
immigrant life in its noble and degenerative aspects, he had at
least labored on home soil.
Ikor’s Goncourt award was assailed on Jewish grounds. Schwarz-
Bart’s became a focal point of literary controversy. Few ques-
tioned that
The Last of the Just
was a masterpiece. The unique-
ness of the book was underscored by the author’s youth, his dis-
organized childhood and adolescence, the self-tutoring which
constituted much of his education. It portrayed Jewish suffering
in Christian Europe on a broad canvas which depicted events
from medieval England to Auschwitz, Germany and Poland.
Within the framework of a legend—that of the
Lamed Vovnik
Schwarz-Bart spun an original and remarkably different story
steeped in warmth and pathos. In the history of the Jewish
novel, the
Last of the Just
must be assigned an honored place
in any listing of masterpieces and, for balance and breadth,
might deserve the permanent status of leadership.
Yet here again controversy raged. In those memorable pages
which take Ernie Levy into the gas chamber, a striking similarity
was discovered to a documentary account. Instead of honoring
the author’s regard for the authenticity of events so horrible
that he distrusted his imagination—amply displayed elsewhere—
the critics leveled a feeble charge of plagiarism at him. These
same French critics appeared pitifully unaware of the nearly
undistinguishable line dividing the fictional from the non-fic-
tional in the literature of the Holocaust. They disclosed only
their own limited insight and experience and failed to indict the
author of dishonorable intent. Nothing has come from Schwarz*
Bart’s pen since
The Last of the Just.
Only a few weeks ago has