Page 99 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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ROCHELLE FURSTENBERG
Aharon Appelfeld and Holocaust
Literature
P
e r h a p s
,
t h e
g r e a t e s t
paradox of Holocaust literature is that it
exists at all. For it is a literature constantly grappling with silence,
tearing utterance out o f the unspeakable. All forms o f expression
fall short of the horror. A writer cannot but feel the limitations of
his language, the paucity o f his tools to express an evil as absolute
as that which the Nazis perpetrated upon the lews between 1939
and 1945.
Certainly this has been the reaction o f many men o f letters.
The German-Jewish critic T.W. Adorno felt that “it was not only
impossible but perhaps even immoral to attempt to write about
the Holocaust.”1 Elie Wiesel, who as a writer is most identified
with literature of the Holocaust, at one point said, “Auschwitz
negates any form o f literature, as it defies all systems, all doc­
trines. A novel about Auschwitz is not a novel, or else it is not
about Auschwitz. The very attempt to write such a novel is blas­
phemy.”2
The popularization of the Holocaust as a subject of interest
and the outpouring of literature that followed in its wake demon­
strate how easy it is to trivialize, vulgarize, package and cheapen,
in short, make blasphemy of six million Jewish deaths. At the
same time, one must bear witness, tell of the evil for future gener­
ations. Otherwise, the portentous, significance-laden silence of
today becomes the silence of non-existence, the blank of igno­
rance of tomorrow. Throughou t the Holocaust courageous Jews
witnessing and experiencing the atrocities of the Nazis took it
upon themselves to chronicle the events, “So that future genera­
tions would know.”
1 Quoted in: Alvin Rosenfeld,
A Double Dying
(Bloomington: University of
Indiana Press, 1980), p. 13.
2 Elie Wiesel, “For Some Measure o f Humility,”
Sh’ma
(Oct. 31, 1975).