Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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YURI SUHL
On Writing Holocaust Fiction
*
On
t h is
o cc a s io n
I
w o u l d
l i k e
to share with you some thoughts
on the writing of Holocaust fiction. Treating the Holocaust
theme in fictional form can be a hazardous undertaking, espe­
cially for one who had not lived through the experience. The
pitfalls are many and the possibility of failure looms large. The
bare facts are so overwhelming, so imagination-staggering that
only their documentary nature gives them their credibility.
In the process of transforming these facts into fiction both the
enormity of the crime and the depth of the suffering must be
translated into humanly comprehensible terms, otherwise the
drama embodied in the fact turns into melodrama and genuine
emotion assumes the shrill ring of hysteria. When that happens,
the novelist has failed in his objective, which was to engage the
reader’s emotions and thus involve him personally in the world
of the Holocaust.
But whereas a writer’s failure in a creative endeavor, painful
as it may be, is ultimately only a personal failure, failure in Hol­
ocaust fiction means that the author has failed not only himself
but also a theme that is regarded as sacred. An awesome burden
to live with.
This, perhaps, explains why the considerable body of Holo­
caust literature we already have is largely documentary, the bulk
of which consists of survivors’ memoirs, and why so little of it
is fictional. The paucity is even more pronounced in the area
of juvenile fiction.
As I now reflect on the literary genesis of
Uncle Misha’s Par­
tisans
it occurs to me that this rather slender volume of a little
over 200 pages was twenty-five years in the making, although the
actual writing took less than a year. All my work on the Holo­
caust theme for the past twenty-five years as researcher, writer,
* Remarks on receiving the 1974 Charles and Bertie G. Schwartz Jewish
Juvenile Award presented by the Jewish Book Council for his book
Uncle
Misha’s Partisans
(New York, Four Winds Press, 1973).
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