Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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H
a l p e r in
— W
e isel
s
The Gates of the Forest
59
Christ. The symbolic point here is thus underscored: it is the
Jew murdered 6,000,000 times over who was crucified, and it is
of him so sacrificed that the world ought to seek forgiveness.
Escaping from the villagers bent on killing him, he flees to the
forest and joins a band of Jewish partisans who are fighting the
Germans. This development signals a new “ turning” in the book
and in Gregor’s changing roles. In the cave he was the Jew in
hiding, in Maria’s village the disguised Jew as victim, and now
he is transformed into the fighter, in the tradition of Jewish
fighters extending from Joshua, Judah Maccabee and Bar Kochba
to the Israeli armies throughout their three wars.
Shortly after Gregor joins this partisan band, its leader, Leib
the Lion, is captured by Hungarian soldiers and executed. Gregor
mistakenly feels he is guilty of having unwittingly caused Leib’s
death, and he accuses himself: “ I am responsible. He who is not
among the victims is with the executioners. This was the meaning
of the Holocaust: it implicated not only Abraham or his son, but
their God as well.” This self-accusation is an extension of what
earlier Wieselean survivor-protagonists believe—“ to live is to be­
tray the dead.”
His readiness to blame himself for Leib’s death is denounced by
a fellow partisan, Yehuda, as a revealing indication of both
Gregor’s need to alienate himself from others and to indulge,
uselessly, in furthering suffering. “ . . . you insist upon suffering
alone. Such suffering shrinks you, diminishes you.” Yehuda than
avows that what is wanted are human beings constructing bridges
to one another, even in the face of the awesome Void. “You say,
‘I ’m alone.’ Someone answers, ‘I’m alone too.’ There’s a shift in
the scale of power. A bridge is thrown between the two abysses.”
Human Existence is Full of Pain
Ideally, then, suffering ought to make us more open, more
accessible to others, rather than the reverse; and precisely because
human existence is full c f much pain, it is crucial to give one’s
best response to the demands of love and friendship. In short,
Yehuda speaks to Gregor in the same key that Gyula of
The
Accident
spoke to Eliezer and Pedro of
The Town Beyond the
Wall
spoke to Michael.
After the war, Gregor and his wife Clara, formerly a partisan
and Leib’s mistress, immigrate to the United States and they settle
in a Brooklyn community. It is a marriage of love and yet Gregor
does not feel he is any closer to the gate he has been searching
for; redemption seems as far off as before; he is still in bondage