Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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BERGER / HOLINESS AND HOLOCAUST
23
fellow
yored,
contends that Israel is the new Chelm; “nobody
in his right mind,” he says, “wants to live only among Jews.”
Yoav spent a year on an Indian Ashram attempting to get him­
self together after serving in a MASH unit in the 1973 war.
Both of his brothers died in Israel’s earlier battles. Yoav recalls
that his father, a life-long socialist, made a death-bed confession
that his life had been a mistake.
Nissenson then contrasts the attitudes of Israelis who find
the tensions of living in the Jewish state unbearable with an
omnipresent American anti-Semitism. Sam, his friend’s cousin,
an intern at an Iowa City Hospital called at two A.M. He had
been on duty when a farmer was brought into the emergency
room with a broken leg. The farmer asks Sam if he was a Jew.
Finding out the answer, the farmer pulls a gun and threatens
to kill him because “Jews stole my farm.” Sam left the farmer
on the table, cleaned out his locker and went home. He will
go to Milwaukee because there is a big Jewish community there.
Nissenson’s encounter with both evil and righteousness is viv­
idly portrayed in “The Pit,” an account of the Barbie Trial.
The journal describes events which occur in Europe, Israel, and
America. In April of 1986, Nissenson visits the village of Izieu,
from which forty-four Jewish children and seven Jewish adults
were deported to Auschwitz. Three days later he was in Yad
Vashem seeking more information about the forty-four chil­
dren. “I ’m Jewish,” he told a researcher, and “I want to write
about one I can identify with: a boy who’d now be about my
age, if he’d lived.” Nissenson’s quest illustrates the collective
nature of kelal Yisrael while acknowledging the deep and abid­
ing impact of the
Shoah
on Jewish identity.
Nissenson’s journal describes the life and death of Georgy
Halpern, one of the children of Izieu. In the process, he reveals
one of the central paradoxes of post-Auschwitz moral life. It
is the victims and not the murderers who feel ashamed. For
example, granted a rare interview by Georgy’s parents,
Nissenson reports Dr. Halpern’s anguished words: “I feel guilty
for his death. I’m ashamed to tell people how I lost my child.”
The reader is also introduced to Beate Klarsfeld, a German
Protestant, one of the righteous gentiles, who was instrumental
in having Barbie brought to trial. She is motivated both by her
own shame at being a German and by her desire to avenge
the children of Izieu.