Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
mixtures o f affection and satire actually exist — and surely com­
plicate the already complicated political situation in Israel —
but also because the intertwining o f a religious past and a con­
temporary presen t presses so hard on questions tha t most com­
fortably assimilated Jewish-Americans would p re fe r to ignore.
Much the same things can be said o f Je rom e Badanes’
The
Final Opus o f Leon Solomon,
a novel tha t is unsparing both about
the sadomasochist pain o f a single survivor and about the post-
Holocaust universe in general. T h a t Jewish-American writers
should feel uneasy about such material is understandab le
enough. After all, geography and good luck had spared them.
How, then , could they now presume, and how could they begin,
to speak about the unspeakable? Moreover, they were hardly
being encouraged by those who had been there (one thinks,
for example, o f Elie Wiesel’s stern warnings against “fictioni-
zing” — by which he meant
trivializing
— the Holocaust).
At the same time, however, there were o the r voices calling
Jewish-American writers to account for the ir silence. As Robert
Alter pu t it in a 1966 essay on Israeli Holocaust fiction: “With
all the restless prob ing into the implications o f the Holocaust
that continues to go on in Jewish intellectual forums . . . it gives
one pause to note how rarely American-Jewish fiction has at­
tempted to come to terms . . . with the European ca tastrophe”
(Alter, 163).
In the years since 1966, however, the situation has changed
markedly, as S. Lillian Kremer persuasively demonstrates in he r
recent study
Witness Through the Imagination
(1989). As she a r ­
gues, “Trad ition commands all Jews to consider themselves fig­
uratively presen t at Sinai to receive the To rah . Contemporary
Jews increasingly feel that, geography aside, they were presen t
at Auschwitz. American Jews carry the psychological bu rden
o f Auschwitz and Chelmno and Dachau and Bergen-Belsen and
Treblinka and all the o ther Nazi dea th factories where the ir
relatives died brutal dea ths” (Kremer, 15). Put ano the r way:
In the post-Holocaust universe, the task o f bearing witness takes
on new dimensions and b roade r responsibilities.
Besides, as Ozick points ou t in an e ffo rt to explain how she
came to write “T h e Shawl” (1980), stories write authors, ra th e r
than the o the r way around . My suspicion is that the same thing
is true o f A r th u r Cohen’s
In the Days o f Simon Stern
(1973) o r
Leslie Epstein’s
The King o f the Jews
(1979). K rem er’s study