Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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forefront o f plausible explanations. Ju s t enough time had
elapsed since the discovery of the millions of dead to be able to
view the events with perspective and tranquillity. Bellow, Mala­
mud and Roth had gone way beyond sentimentalizing the East
Side past without shedding the guilt for having made it and with­
out achieving a satisfactory transition. They had spent the war in
the safety of America, while co-religionists had suffered untold
atrocities and a gruesome end. No excess of the imagination was
needed for them to realize that, but for the emigration from
Europe of grandparents or parents, they would have lain on the
pile of the emaciated dead.
Actually not many writers chose Holocaust survivors as protag­
onists. There were some, to be sure, such as Bellow’s Sammler,
Wallant’s Sol Nazerman, Meyer Levin’s Eva. The bulk of writers
was too fearful that they could not reconstruct events that defied
the imagination, or from which artistic distance was impossible.
The terror felt by many writers was more indirect, but none the
less real. Malamud’s
The Fixer
and Arthur Cohen’s
In the Days of
Simon Stem
expressed this terror through historical and theologi­
cal approaches.
The presence of the Holocaust was perceived by Jewish and
non-Jewish readers, even when it was most indirect. The attempt
to exterminate the Jew and his ability to survive had invested him
with an aura of mystery, as a specialist in survival. In an age in
which nuclear weapons had made survival a generalized human
problem, the Jew’s example was mystically endowed with some
unknown quality, wisdom or attitude. How else could he have
emerged tear-filled but triumphant from his martyrdom? More­
over, the media were wailing over such disintegrating forces in
the general society as drunkenness, drug abuse, sexual promiscu­
ity and somehow the Jew seemed less at risk from this triple peril.
Might the Jew have something purposeful to tell on physical and
spiritual survival?
There was also the presumed role of the Jew as prophet.
Whether the writer used the Holocaust directly or not, his work
served as a reminder of the base aspects of man’s nature and his
potential for evil. The Jew was almost accepted as teacher with the
Christian as a willing pupil. By telling a tale, even if unconnected