Page 32 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Nissenson relentlessly reports the paradoxes of the trial. The
victims who testify against Barbie, the neo-Nazi who congrat­
ulates the Nazi’s defense attorney, a mass said in honor of World
War II Nazis, “Death to the Jews” slogans. Nissenson inter­
weaves journal entries of excerpts of Georgy’s letters to his par­
ents and Barbie’s criminal activities in Lyon. Dates are given
for each which results in emphasizing the Holocaust as ground
zero in Jewish and human history.
The journa l’s most powerful scene comes in an exchange be­
tween Father Fraisee, a resistant during the war, and Nissenson.
The prelate observes: “Our generation has experienced the
truth about history: evil is real. The human condition hasn’t
changed since Adam and Eve. The world awaits its Redeemer.”
Nevertheless, Father Fraisee concludes that “Nothing about the
war — not even the murder of children — shakes my faith.”
Nissenson responds, “It cost me mine.”
CONCLUSION
Nissenson’s writings dramatize the ambiguities and uncertain­
ties of life in a world where God is dead. Rubenstein observes
that, for him, the ‘death-of-God’ is a theological code word for
the collapse of authority
, political authority, moral authority, social
authority, and religious authority.17 Nissenson, for his part, has
abandoned belief in God, but not the power of Judaism’s par­
adigmatic myths. After Auschwitz, however, these paradigms
no longer have any vertical referent. Transcendence is another
casualty of the Holocaust. With Rubenstein’s death of God po­
sition, Nissenson observes that the universe is governed by blind
chance.18
Nissenson portrays religious figures who grow increasingly
irrelevant; they die, commit heretical acts, or are simply over­
whelmed by evil. Moreover, he reverses classical paradigms and
talmudic tales. The contemporary Yohanan ben Zakkai is mur­
dered by other Jews. He does not renew Judaism. The con-
17. Rubenstein,
Power Struggle,
pp. 8 and 9.
18. Rubenstein’s position has changed somewhat. Unlike Nissenson’s stress on
mythology, Rubenstein appears to embrace a form o f nature mysticism.
He writes: “Perhaps the best available metaphor for the conception o f God
as the Holy Nothingness is that God is the ocean and we are the waves.”
See his
Morality and Eros
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970), p. 186.