Page 113 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Ghetto Poems ofSutzkever
father trembles with rage before the closing Judgment Book. Hav­
ing already sacrificed four sons, the father tells ofwaiting vainly for
a sign of the ram, and being finally forced to plunge his knife into
the heart of his one last child. The avenging father accuses God of
having gone into partnership with the executioner. Since He could
not sate his appetite on the first four sons, let Him now break fast
after Ne’ila with the fifth. The Jew has kept this covenantal bar­
gain: unable to accept God’s treachery, he turns the altar into a
butcher block and hurls defiant service at God turned Cannibal.
To the end the ghetto Abraham-Job will not free the God of Israel
from his pact, but force Him into confrontation.
The very enormity of the destruction to which Sutzkever be­
came an immediate witness demanded a corresponding diction.
When a smuggled potato could send a man to his death, and a child
could forfeit its life “over a rose,” then forbidden Jewish survival
became the highest aesthetic ideal. The Holocaust could only be
rendered, finally, in the ancient imagery of Jewish history and lit­
urgy. Sutzkever, who had always cut through the circumstantial
and social distractions to the essential source of harmonies and
sense, now employed poetry to withstand not just the German pol­
icy of obliteration, but the silence of God. By summoning Him
back into history, the poet hoped to forge a metaphor worthy of its
subject and the only possible literary context for Meaning. To ad­
mit only the existential criteria, a world of men and things, would
have doomed the Holocaust to cosmic insignificance, to another
metaphysical extinction. With bitter irony, Sutzkever acknowledg­
es that the very absolutism of the destruction of East European
Jews imposed on the poet a language commensurate with its do­
minion—the language of the eternal contract between the Jews
and their God.
Sutzkever’s life, even after his escape from the ghetto and then
from the forest, is a microcosmic biography of modern Jewry. He
was in Russia and met the Soviet Yiddish writers only a few years