Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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SICHER / BURDEN OF REMEMBRANCE
31
the identity of the lost Ariel and journeys to Germany to seek
retribution from the ghetto commander responsible for his
death and the death of so many others. His father has locked
himself in silence and has spent the postwar years fretting over
the legal and moral questions of retribution, unaware that his
assassination attempt immediately after the war had failed, that
the ghetto commander survived the attack on him and prospers
incognito
in Germany. Yet Ariel Tamiroff fares no better than
his father in reckoning up God’s account-book.
Wiesel’s earlier collection of essays
One Generation After
(1970)
summarized the testament of the survivor looking at the con­
temporary world; now, significantly in novel form, Wiesel sees
that testament through the eyes of his son’s generation.
The
Fifth Son
is Wiesel’s most coherent message so far to the second
generation who will have to relate the story of the Holocaust
to their children in a contemporary fulfilment of the biblical
commandment to tell the children the story of the exodus from
Egypt.8 At the same time Wiesel paraphrases the son’s difficul­
ties in being a child of survivors:
Son o f survivors, I feel ill at ease in a complacent world that,
in order to rest easier, has repudiated me even before my birth.
For me all is constraint: language and silence, love and the ab­
sence o f love. What I wish to say I shall never say. What I wish
to understand, I shall never understand
.9
These are the universal constraints of language and the inev­
itability of forgetting in remembrance, but they prove more
complex for the second generation survivor who must cope with
the irresoluble paradoxes ensuing from his parents’ and his peo­
ple’s survival, with the collective trauma as well as the post-
traumatic “Survivors’ Syndrome,” received through the kind of
osmosis which Helen Epstein described in
Children of the Holo­
caust.
The young Tamiroff who journeys to Germany feels guilty
for a journey that must be hurtful to his father’s conscience
and to his father’s love for him. He is also guilty for having
done nothing.
If only I could get angry, express my rage, but I cannot. . . .
And that saddens and annoys me and I resent this insensitive
8. Exodus, 12: 24-28. One might compare the command to relate the story
o f the Holocaust in Primo Levi’s “Shma.”
9.
The Fifth Son
(Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987), p. 219.