Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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LIBERMAN / AUSTRALIAN JEWISH FICTION SINCE WORLD WAR II
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across the 1870’s through to the 1890’s, Millie Finkelstein and
Mrs. A(nthony) Blitz at the turn o f the century, Philip Masel in
the 1930’s, Nathan Spielvogel for the greater part of his 82 years
before his death in 1956, and a number of others. These writers
fall outside the scope o f this paper. They antedate the period dis­
cussed here and their preoccupations and themes, too, are totally
different from those of the writers that followed.
The first work to beg attention is a bitter-sweet little volume
entitled
The Smile o f Herschale Handle
by Benjamin Newman
Jubal, published in 1947. Whatever little biographical informa­
tion exists about Jubal suggests that at the time he was 46 years
old; he had escaped to Australia from Vienna some eight years
before. He had worked as a cook and factory-hand, although he
had been a trained theatre-director in Vienna and was active in
that field in the 1950’s in Ceylon. While in Melbourne, he had
produced a few stage-plays in English and Yiddish for the Jewish
Cultural Centre, “Kadimah.” He died in Sydney in 1961.
Now, what o f Herschale Handle (or Herschale the Hawker)?
One student o f Australian J ewish literature of the period calls the
work an apologia of the Jewish people. It is more than that. The
book consists of a series of vignettes often told with irony, humor,
self-mockery. In it, there are madmen and artists and prophets
and revolutionaries; there are golems and gabbays and heretics
and thieves. The book is a protest, for all its humor; it is a bitter
work, its bitterness directed at the violence of the world, at the
wanton hounding and killing of innocents — above all, of his
fellow-Jews. It is a heartless world that Herschale Handle tells
about; it is full of death, greed and injustice, and for the Jew only
the promise of wandering and liquidation. And yet, the narra tor
can be moved to say, as in a mother’s letter to an unborn son:
Whatever it looks like down there, life is still worth living.
This is not a fixed unalterable world. It changes and
changes. You will not be alone. Day by day there are many
arrivals like you. I believe in you and in all of you.
Technically,
The Smile of Herschale Handle
is not perfect. On
many occasions, Jubal confronts the reader too squarely with spe­
cial pleading, and with didactic intent. But it is to be remembered
that the book appeared in 1947, a mere two years after the termi­
nation of a war that had claimed millions of his fellow Jews,
among them his family. So if there is bitterness under the guise of