Page 100 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

Basic HTML Version

The need to bear testament and in some limited human way
bring form to this most incomprehensible o f experiences is
poignantly summed up by by Alvin Rosenfeld in his book,
A Dou­
ble Dying
At just those points where, through some abiding and still
operative reflex o f language, silence converts once more
into word, even into words about silence, Holocaust litera­
ture is born. Its birth must be seen as a miracle o f some sort,
not only o f an overcoming o f mute despair but an assertion
and affirmation o f faith.3
Initially, when the news of the ho rro r began to penetrate into
the Yishuv, in the forties, “the reflex o f language” was a cry, a
scream, an almost wordless expression of pain and anger. For a
population, many o f whom had themselves barely escaped the
gas chambers, and almost all o f whom had relatives in Nazi-
dominated Europe, what else could be done but to “sit shiva,” sit
upon the floor and cry. Poetry was a natural form o f expression
for this. In continuum with the tradition o f Jewish lamentation,
the poetic voice, for all its personal pain represented the collect­
Hanna Yaoz has pointed out that Holocaust lamentations are a
form of protest against the Germans, against God, even against
ourselves.4 These lamentations, like the traditional ones, carry
within themselves the seeds o f consolation, according to Hillel
Barzel.5These are not facile consolations, but express deep belief
in the resurrection o f the nation. And in every generation new
lamentations arise. Amir Gilboa, reversing the Binding o f Isaac
story, laments the inability o f the children to save their fathers.
Dan Pagis, himself a survivor, cries out against Cain. Yehuda
Amichai’s tone is the individual musing one o f his generation, but
it attests to a generalized pain and paralysis after Auschwitz. A
generation o f poets later, Meir Wieseltier’s lamentation is p re ­
sented through the grotesque.
3 Op. cit., p. 15.
4 “Poems o f Revolt in the Poetry o f the Holocaust” (Hebrew),
77, vol.
7:40-41, April-May, 1983, p. 26.
5 Introduction by Hillel Barzel to:
The Holocaust in Hebrew Poetry
A Selection
(Hebrew, Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1973).