Page 86 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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compounded by the unhappy facts that he was a “native in a
colonial country, a Jew in an anti-Semitic universe, an
African in a world dominated by Europe.” When the Nazis
occupied North Africa he is cast aside as a Jew and out of rebel-
lion he becomes a Jew, reactively a proud Jew. Never before
committed to religion, the hero now frantically leads his
fellow-Jews in prayer, a gesture of defiance rather than an affirma-
tion of faith. But at the end of the war Memmi’s triply divided
Jew resolves to go to Argentina, for a reason never fully explained.
Memmi has also written an unsuccessful novel on intermarriage.
He attracted wider attention with his controversial
Portrait of
a Jew,
a work of non-fiction which restates some of the dilemmas
posed in
Pillar of Salt.
Maintaining categorically that it is a mis-
fortune to be a Jew, he spends the better part of the book in an
attempt to prove it, but also claims in the final third some vir-
tues of being Jewish. While committed Jews will find some of
Memmi’s theses reprehensible one can’t help admiring the hon-
esty and complete forthrightness with which he articulates them.
Memmi is in fact describing the Jews who have remained Jews
by habit, by anti-Semitism and by lethargy. On the other hand,
Memmi’s statements lack a certain universality, being partly the
outgrowth of his own tripartite minority state, hardly a repre-
sentative condition of most Jews.
6 6
e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
D ivided Opinion
Of more recent vintage is Jean-Fran^ois Steiner’s
semi-documentary novel on Jewish uprising in this infamous
camp. Here again French Jewish opinion has been divided, with
many thoughtful and committed Jews decidedly unhappy about
some of his Jewish portraits. Son of a murdered Jewish father
and Catholic mother (who has since remarried a Jew), M. Steiner
has been troubled by questions that have disturbed others and
have been voiced here by Hannah Arendt and Bruno Bettelheim.
Why did the Jews allow themselves to be led to slaughter with-
out resistance? M. Steiner, a journalist, interviewed numerous
survivors of
not a concentration camp like the others
in which the physically able still worked, but an extermination
camp. Despite his extensive research, M. Steiner could not resist
any more than Hannah Arendt the temptation to pose this agoniz-
ing question. Miss Arendt’s book bore the weakness of all her
work—remarkable originality and intellectual creativeness, but
painfully at the expense of fact. M. Steiner’s appears likewise
guilty of placing challenging ideas above accuracy, interest and
liveliness above truth.