Page 87 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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6 7
K
a h n
— F
r e n c h
-J
ew i sh
W
r iter s
American Jewry enjoys security from anti-Semitism and did
not therefore feel threatened in any way by Miss Arendt’s theses.
French Jews, however, having experienced the agonies and tor-
ment of Nazism in their soul, were gravely concerned about the
effects of Steiner’s book. Michel Bonwicy in
L ’Arche
and the
well known historian Leon Poliakov in
Critique
have pointed to
numerous factual errors relating to Jewish uprisings other than
those of Warsaw and Treblinka. Poliakov objects also to numer-
ous errors relating to Jewish history and values. He even charges
Steiner with totally false assertions repeated throughout the
book: Jewish pathological clinging to life, Jewish cowardice, the
reliance on outmoded and unrealistic techniques in facing a new
enemy. Yet, in fairness to M. Steiner it must be said that he has
sought honest answers from within the Eastern Judaic traditions
which could explain the prisoners’ conduct. Some of his answers
have unquestionable validity. While we cannot condone his
errors, he must not be reproached if his findings do not contribute
to our self esteem. Moreover, M. Steiner’s book is written from
within the Jewish milieu, while Miss Arendt’s bore the mark
of the outsider. Both books—but in particular Miss Arendt’s—
are entirely too distant from the psychological and moral climate
of those awful times to penetrate inside the minds and psyches
of victims at the moment of intense suffering, total isolation
and absence of even a glimmer of hope.
Thus, nearly all French books about Jews have stood in the
shadow of the Nazi era. Several others dealing with the terror
possessed obvious merit, but failed to attract attention. Edouard
Axelrod’s
L ’Arche Ensevelie
(The Entombed Ark), whose locale
was a Polish town during the Nazi Occupation, paints a nuanced
portrait of a Jew who is invested with power by the conquerors
and then corrupted by that power. When he accepted the assign-
ment he was motivated by commitment to distressed people. “I
wanted to show,” writes M. Axelrod, “that power always acts
against the individual . . . I have lived this story in a camp and
later again witnessed an example of it in Indo-China. These men
whom I selected were among the best . . . (but) once they had
power, they disintegrated morally at astounding speed.”
Arnold Mandel, a distinguished essayist, critic and Yiddishist
has also tried his hand at the novel but with only moderate success.
His
Les Vaisseaux briiles
(Burnt Vessels) also revolves around a
spiritually impoverished, psychologically dislodged Jew at the
end of the war. The Christian protagonist of Lucette Finas’
The
Faithful Shepherd
is so obsessed with crimes against Jews that
in a desperate bid for sainthood by correcting injustice, he vir-
tually ruins his marriage. The book is replete with subtle impli-
cations, but suggests—perhaps more than I care for—the notion