Page 53 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

Basic HTML Version

MIRSKY / ABUSE OF THE HOLOCAUST
45
respected members o f society which say in effect: “How guilty
must we be made to feel about the Holocaust? We d idn ’t have
anything to do with it and so enough already.” Th is attitude finds
expression, in varying ways and in varying degrees, in literature.
A work which serves as an example o f what may be called the
“inversion,” perhaps more correctly, the “perversion” o f the
Holocaust, is a novel by A. Alvarez called
Hers
(1976). This is the
story o f Ju lie Stone, a Holocaust survivor who lives up to he r
name; she is the cold and unmoved wife o f a British professor of
literature , Charles Stone. Slowly she draws one o f h e r husband ’s
students, Sam Green, into an affair, the beginning o f h e r struggle
to fight her way back into life. From its very beginning, we catch
the perverse notes struck by the novel. T he survivor of the
Holocaust is not a Jew bu t a Lutheran , while the character u n ­
touched by the cataclysm is Sam, the Jewish studen t who becomes
Ju lie’s lover. Ju lie’s husband questions his student:
“Where are you from?”
“London .”
“I mean originally.”
“London ,” Sam repeated . “My parents were born there and
my g randpa ren ts . . . I f you mean am I Jewish, the answer is
yes. But tha t doesn’t mean I am a refugee from anywhere”
(p. 58).
T he clever reversal, playing o ff the traditional eternal wanderer
— pathetically insisting tha t he is a sojourner — against the true
refugee, the Lu theran survivor o f a concentration camp, saved by
h er marriage to an Englishman, is subtle and striking. And there
is more. Continuing h er struggle to re tu rn to life, Ju lie re tu rns to
Germany and there takes a new lover, Kurt, a young German, the
son o f a fo rm er storm -trooper. Sam, unwilling to give Julie up,
follows her and has a confrontation with Kurt who tells him:
“They [the Nazis] showed us tha t no one is answerable to anyone
else. They ’re living p roo f tha t anything goes.” Alvarez has Sam
ponder K u rt’s words. “They were survivors to a man . . . Any­
thing goes he’d said. But only, though t Sam, over my dead body.
O r the bodies o f Jews like me. He stopped short, tha t’s ghetto
talk” (pp. 180-186). And then Alvarez has Sam re tu rn to England,
leaving Ju lie to find her way back to the land o f the living through
the revitalizing m inistrations o f her post-Holocaust German
lover, the only true survivor.