Page 41 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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ALEXANDER / THE HOLOCAUST IN JEWISH NOVELS
31
Emil Fackenheim calls “the scandal of the particularity of Ausch­
witz.”3 Nevertheless, since the Eichmann T ria l, still more since
the Six-Day War, some gifted writers have sought, to come to
terms with a life that American Jews thought they had buried,
and even to find a special resonance in the dust of their mur­
dered brethren. Edward Wa llant, in The Pawnbroker (1962) ,
powerfully conveyed the spiritual distance separating a survivor
who had lost his family in Poland from the New York life in
which he was physically enmeshed. Norma Rosen’s Touching
Evil (1969) tried to show how non-Jewish American women,
whose imaginations had been touched by accounts o f the Holo­
caust, might try to think and feel their way into the lives of the
victims. Saul Bellow, in Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970) , followed
W a llan t and Rosen in placing his protagonist, the survivor
Sammler, in New York City, but he then shipped his hero off to
Israel upon the outbreak of the Six-Day War, as i f to say that
an adequate response to the Holocaust now required some de­
gree o f identification with the beleaguered Jewish state. In fact,
the only attempt in American Jewish writing to imagine a com­
munal response to the Holocaust that does not consist of devo­
tion to Israel is A rthu r A. Cohen’s In the Days of Simon Stern
(1973) . This novel views the Holocaust from the perspective of
Jewish religion, exploring the ancient Jewish idea that messianic
redemption w ill come through historical catastrophe.
In all of these American Jewish novels, the Holocaust figures
importantly but does not compel the w riter’s undiluted atten­
tion. The one major novel by an American Jewish w riter which
treats the Holocaust directly, steadily, and exclusively is Susan
F. Schaeffer’s Anya (1974) . An historical novel in the form of a
memoir written by Anya Savikin some years after she is brought
to New York from the D.P. camps, the book portrays, with a
wealth of detail that is part of its meaning, every stage of the
destruction process. W e see the Jews of pre-war Vilna, the de­
portations, the shootings in Ponary, the ghetto, the death camps.
But we also see, through the concurrent story of Anya’s survival,
the deepest meaning of the continuity of life. The novel is a
kind o f miracle. The life and death o f Eastern European Jewry
3 From Bergen-Belsen to Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Institute of Contemporary
Jewry, 1975), p. 11.