Page 122 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Mirsky
114
and conscience in modern society, for which, indeed, the Holo­
caust background could be appropriate, but he simply was not up
to the task. This defense, however, only helps underscore the
point. The Holocaust is increasingly being exploited for the lurid
possibilities it offers, guaranteed to tingle the nerves and stimulate
the slavering seekers of thrills and chills. High-minded intentions
do not excuse moral insensitivity.
There are other negative reactions of the imaginative mind to
the Holocaust. It is not uncommon to come across statements by
respected members of society which say in effect: “How guilty
must we be made to feel about the Holocaust? We didn’t have any­
thing to do with it and so enough already.” This attitude finds ex­
pression, in varying ways and in varying degrees, in literature.
A work which serves as an example of what may be called the
“inversion,” perhaps more correctly, the “perversion,” of the Ho­
locaust, is a novel by A. Alvarez called
Hers
(1976). This is the story
of Julie Stone, a Holocaust survivor who lives up to her name; she
is the cold and unmoved wife of a British professor of literature,
Charles Stone. Slowly she draws one of her husband’s students,
Sam Green, into an affair, the beginning of her struggle to fight
her way back into life. From its very beginning, we catch the per­
verse notes struck by the novel. The survivor of the Holocaust is
not a Jew but a Lutheran, while the character untouched by the
cataclysm is Sam, the Jewish student who becomes Julie’s lover.
Julie’s husband questions his student:
“Where are you from”
“London.”
“I mean originally.”
“London,” Sam repeated. “My parents were born there and my grandpar­
ents. . . . If you mean am I Jewish, the answer is yes. But that doesn’t mean I am
a refugee from anywhere” (p. 58).
The clever reversal, playing off the traditional eternal wander­
er—pathetically insisting that he is a sojourner—against the true
refugee, the Lutheran survivor of a concentration camp, saved by