Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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Before they can reach the battle lines, the Germans have sur­
rendered. But it is less this accident of timing than their own
Jewish character which frustrates the desire fo r revenge.
Those Palestinians keenest to cleanse themselves of the stain
o f Jew ry ’s long “nightmare of helplessness” want somehow to
retaliate the injuries inflicted upon European Jewry. But they
also want to separate themselves from the pacific and passive
ways of European Jewry. Even the hero, a moderating voice,
expresses “revulsion” at the thought that he is connected by blood
with a death camp victim who had survived by working in the
crematorium. He wants to love these survivors, but “They ’re all
strangers to me.” Growing up in the beleaguered yishuv, Elisha
had sought to leap backwards over diaspora Jew ry to his Biblical
ancestors, and had wanted to be “just a little like we are in the
Old Testament for once, . . . A little ‘eye for an eye.’ ” But now
he and the others find themselves (like Amichai’s hero) in­
capable o f wreaking the revenge and expressing the hatred
which if “never extinguished w ill eat at us forever.”
Descent into the Holocaust becomes for the Jewish soldiers
from Eretz Israel a means of self-discovery. They cannot, even
if they wish to, become Germans. “Now I knew: such were we,
condemned to walk the earth with the image o f God stamped
on our foreheads like the mark of Cain. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t
stand to see a girl raped. Couldn’t take it—my delicate Jewish
soul.” Their inability to harm the family even of an S.S. man
prompts the narrator’s bitter, shocked recognition that, after all,
“we were soft weaklings, warped Diaspora Jews.” Thus, fo r the
Israeli novelist the encounter with the Holocaust becomes the
means of penetrating to the very heart of his country’s present
crisis of national identity.
In America, the awakening of Jewish writers to the subject of
the Holocaust has been slow. American Jewish writers, reluctant
to conceive of specifically Jewish suffering and afflicted w ith a
compulsive desire for discovering analogies between the murder
of Jews and discrimination practiced against whatever group
was, at the time of writing, the special beneficiary o f liberal-left
benevolence, could not easily bring themselves to recognize what