Page 156 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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Chaim Grade as Poet of the
h e
c o n f r o n t a t i o n
o f
i d d i s h
literature with the experience
o f the Holocaust as total mass annihilation o f the Jews goes
back to long before World War II. Already in the writings o f
Hillel Zeitlin in 1917 ,1 in the closing remarks o f Simon Bernfeld
in the introduction to his
Sefer ha-Demaot,2
in 1923, and the
poem “In Malkhus fun T seylem” by Uri Zvi Greenberg written
in the same year,3 we find a foreshadowing and premonition
o f the Holocaust. This sense o f foreboding, which until recently
went little noticed in Yiddish and Hebrew interwar writing, be­
came a permanent feature o f this literature.4 Poets like H.
Leivick, Aaron Zeitlin, Itzchak Katzenelson, Chaim Grade and
others gave expression to their apprehensions about a world
in which the mass annihilation o f the Jews becomes not only
a reaction to past events but also a prophecy for the future
and an intellectual certainty.
* Part o f an introductory chapter on Grade’s poetry prior to World War I.
I thank Inna Hecker Grade for her gracious help and answers to my many
1. See Moshe Aryeh-Leon Waldoks,
Hillel Zeitlin: The Early Years
(Ann Arbor,
MI, 1984; dissertation, Brandeis University) pp. 76-133; see also Yechiel
Szeintuch, “Hillel Zeitlin” in the
Encyclopedia o f the Holocaust
(New York,
Macmillan, 1990), Vol. 4, pp. 1731-32.
2. Simon Bernfeld,
Sefer ha-Demaot,
vol. 1 (Berlin, Eshkol, 1923), pp. 74-77.
Bernfeld envisages the continuation o f the Jewish tragedy as an integral
part o f an evolving world process which began with World War I.
3. Printed for the first time in the journal
3-4 (Berlin, 1923), pp.
4. See David Weinfeld, “Hebrew Poetry in Poland Between the Two World
Iyyunim be-Sifrut . . . Likhevod Dov Sadan . .
. (Jerusalem, Israel Acad­
emy for Science and Humanities, 1988 [Hebrew]), p. 15, pp. 18-20.