Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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WISSE / THE GHETTO POEMS OF ABRAHAM SUTZKEVER
to plunge his knife into the heart of his one last child. The
avenging father accuses God of having gone into partnership
with the executioner. Since He could not sate his appetite
on the first four sons, let Him now break fast after Ne’ila with
the fifth. The Jew has kept this covenantal bargain: unable to
accept God’s treachery, he turns the altar into a butcher block
and hurls defiant service at God turned Cannibal. To the end
the ghetto Abraham-Job will not free the God of Israel from
his pact, but force Him into confrontation.
UNIQUE RESPONSE
The very enormity of the destruction to which Sutzkever be-
came an immediate witness demanded a corresponding diction.
When a smuggled potato could send a man to his death, and
a child could forfeit its life “over a rose,” then forbidden
Jewish survival became the highest aesthetic ideal. The Holo-
caust could only be rendered, finally, in the ancient imagery of
Jewish history and liturgy. Sutzkever, who had always cut
through the circumstantial and social distractions to the essential
source of harmonies and sense, now employed poetry to with-
stand not just the German policy of obliteration, but the silence
of God. By summoning Him back into history, the poet hoped
to forge a metaphor worthy of its subject and the only possible
literary context for Meaning. To admit only the existential
criteria, a world of men and things, would have doomed the
Holocaust to cosmic insignificance, to another, metaphysical
extinction. With bitter irony, Sutzkever acknowledges that the
very absolutism of the destruction of East European Jews im-
posed on the poet a language commensurate with its dominion
—the language of the eternal contract between the Jews and
their God.
Sutzkever’s life, even after his escape from the ghetto and
then from the forests, is a microcosmic biography of modem
Jewry. He was in Russia and met the Soviet Yiddish writers
only a few years before their execution; he testified on behalf
of Russian Jewry at the Nuremberg Trials; he was in Post-War
France and in Israel on the very eve of the creation of the
State. In Tel Aviv he founded a magazine that has published
the best of Yiddish literature from all continents. Sutzkever has