Friday 7 June 2013

Too much grief

Someone told me that one of my Nuremberg stories contains too much grief, it is sadness piled upon sadness. I can see what they mean: who wants to read stuff that is about grief and that's it?

The novel is like that too: the beginning is the most powerful, about the injustice and pain, the betrayals and losses. My mentor suggests that I turn it round - the past as flashbacks, seen from a place of safety. The reader is told that the people will escape. Whenever I think about it, it seems unbelievable that they did. I wonder what was special about them. Maybe it was just luck. Four members of one family each navigating across murderous currents by whatever means of salvation available. I can't do anything much today. I shall write and write and see what arises.

I have read Aharon Appelfeld's The Story of a Life (Schocken Books, NY, 2004) translated from the Hebrew by Aloma Halter. She does an excellent job of it. The novel told me something I didn't know, or only knew confusedly: the effect of the period immediately preceding the Six Day War on those who had been victims of the Second World War.

After the war broke out, my parents drove all the way from the North to the South of Israel to visit me, because 'Your mother needed to see you', said my father. I was a young soldier guarding a settlement near Gaza, my focus was on adapting to the new Israeli culture, learning Hebrew, learning about the army, everything at once, my head and my heart in a whirl. I missed childhood friends left behind in Europe. I was still a child myself. But around me, everyone was amazed that they had made the trip.

Appelfeld belonged to a club of survivors from Galicia and Eastern Europe.
 "I was called up for reserve duty., and club members vied with one another excitedly to show their support. People pushed banknotes into my pockets, and one of the less popular members (in part because of his miserliness) actually took off his gold watch, gave it to me, and said, "In my name and in the name of my family". Later I learned that this watch had belonged to his brother, who perished in Auschwitz."
 "Be Shmi U Be Shmi Mishpachti." A blessing - implying May your arm be strong and mighty against those who wish to destroy us. It must have seemed unbelievable that we might survive. I don't recall giving it a thought.

I have just realised that I was reading this book yesterday, on June 6th.It portrays the effect of war-time experiences on children with power and accuracy. No amplification. I found it very moving.

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