Page 113 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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FURSTENBERG/AHARON APPELFELD AND HOLOCAUST LITERATURE
105
ISSUE OF JEW ISH IDENTITY
It is significant that Bruno wreaks his anger on Brom and not
on a real German. It would seem that Appelfeld’s wrath is re­
served for the self-negating Jew, the convert turned anti-Semite,
and not for the source o f evil. In a sense Appelfeld’s topic de­
mands this. He is not talking about German atrocities. They are
implicit. R a ther he is focusing on Jewish reactions to the
Holocaust, to brutalization and impending death. The measure
of good and evil will inevitably then be found within the Jewish
people itself, within a delicately calibrated Jewish scale, in the
face o f the limited choices o f the Holocaust. On the other hand,
Appelfeld affirms the quality o f vitality. He often finds it in char­
acters whom society would ordinarily regard as disreputable. As
has been pointed out, the affirmation or negation o f his identity
was one o f the few existential choices the Jew had in the face of
the Holocaust. This becomes a primary value in Appelfeld’s scale
as he struggles with the paradox of the assimilated Jew suffering
for an identity which is meaningless to him. In
The Age o f Wonders
he continues the struggle o f Hebrew and Yiddish writers over the
breakdown o f tradition. Gershon Shaked claims that it is also a
continuation o f the struggle between fathers and sons that has
characterized much of the literature in the land o f Israel. But the
roles have been reversed in face of the Holocaust, revealing the
absurdity o f the Emancipation and the illusion of a liberal
Europe in the face o f Hitler. Appelfeld’s life as well as his litera­
tu re reveal a g rapp ling with this issue. Com ing from an
assimilated, German-speaking home, he studied Yiddish at the
University in an attempt to acquire the Jewish identity for which
he suffered as a child, and because o f which many in his family
were killed.
In a highly critical essay Ruth R. Wisse has accused Appelfeld
of portraying the Holocaust as a punishment for the sins o f as­
similation and self-hate. “Fate,” she claims o f Appelfeld’s work,
“sits in judgm en t on all the ugly, assimilated Jews — fate in the
form of the Holocaust.”12
This seems to be an unfair judgm en t o f Appelfeld. Tha t there
is a self-hating element in some of his characterizations might be
true, but his writing cannot be reduced to this. It does not relate
12 “Aharon Appelfeld, Survivor,”
Commentary,
August 1983.