Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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32
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
world and my father who understands without undertanding
that there is nothing to understand, for noise becomes torture
and memory drives one mad and the future pushes us back to
the edge o f the precipice and death envelops us and rocks us
and stifles us and, helpless, we can neither cry nor run
.10
The Fifth Son does not appear in the section in the Passover
Haggadah which tells of Four Sons, one wise, one wicked, one
simple and one who does not know how to ask. The Fifth Son
knows that there are no answers to the questions, only more
questions.11 The preoccupation with questioning risks insanity
but ensures survival. Apart from the empty chair instituted at
many
seder
tables for the missing Prisoner of Zion (in Syria or,
formerly, in the USSR), the Fifth Son also recalls a fifth cup
at the Passover table, the cup of Elijah, the cup of redemption.
Redemption is only hinted in the kabbalistic undertones of
Wiesel’s writings, but it is a sustaining hope presumed in
The
Fifth Son.
Like
The Fifth Son,
a novel by Karen Gershon entitled
The
Fifth Generation
(1987) deals with the irremediable scars of the
children of the Holocaust and the guilt “unto the fourth and
fifth generations.” Gershon was born in Germany in 1923 and
came to England on a
Kinderstransport
in 1938; her
We Came
as Children
(1966) is a collective autobiography of the several
thousand child refugees from Nazi Germany, many of whom
never saw again the families they left behind. Gershon’s poetry
and prose record the trauma of not being with one’s family
on their last journey, of not knowing their fate and of being
forced into lonely adulthood in a strange country that regarded
the aliens with little sympathy, often with hostility. Such are
the impressions Gershon gives in a fictionalized autobiography
The Bread of Exile
(1985), which describes the humiliating ref­
ugee experience of the war years.
The Fifth Generation
tells the
10. Ibid., p. 14.
11. This is apparently contrary to what Eliezer Berkovits has written — that
after Auschwitz there can be no questions for the faithful, and no answers
for the unbelievers. Wiesel’s anger with God, however, presumes belief;
therefore the questions o f the Fifth Son would presumably have to be ques­
tions o f enquiry, not o f faith, the questions o f the Wise Son, not o f the
Wicked Son. The phrase “Fifth Son” was used by the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi M. Schneerson, to refer to drop-outs whom he wished to draw back
to Judaism.