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“They Are Different People”: Holocaust Survivors as Reflected in the Fiction of the Generation of 1948

Avner Holtzman

  1. Shimon Halkin, “History and Historicism in Modern Hebrew Literature,” in Ways and Byways in Literature, vol. 1 (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1970), p. 165.
  2. For detailed documentation of the fictional works in Hebrew on this subject until the 1970s, see Mendel Piekarz, The Jewish Holocaust and Heroism Through the Eyes of the Hebrew Press: A Bibliography, I-IV (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1966); idem, The Holocaust and its Aftermath: Hebrew Books Published in the Years 1933-1972, I-II (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1974).
  3. See Avner Holtzman, “Contemporary Trends in Israeli Fiction of the Holocaust,” in Dapim: Research in Literature (Hebrew), no. 10 (1996), pp. 131-158.
  4. See Gershon Shaked, “Lost Childhood (on the theme of the Holocaust in young Israeli fiction),” in New Wave in Hebrew Literature (Hebrew) (Merhavia and Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1974), pp. 71-86; Hanna Yaoz, The Holocaust in Hebrew Literature as Historical and Trans-Historical Fiction (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Eked, 1981).
  5. See Nurit Govrin, “ ‘On Their Flesh from Afar’: Reactions to the Holocaust in Hebrew Literature by Those Who Were Not ‘There’,” Zafon (Hebrew), 4 (1996), pp. 209-230; Dan Laor, “Did Agnon Write About the Holocaust?” in S.Y. Agnon: New Perspectives (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1995), pp. 60-97.
  6. See Moshe Shamir, “Isaac’s Fear,” in Shlomo Tanai and Moshe Shamir, eds., Yalqut Ha’reim: Young Hebrew Writers in the Mid-Forties (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1992), pp. 3-41.
  7. On the general characteristics of this generation from a historical and sociological viewpoint, see Yonathan Shapiro, An Elite with No Successors (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1984); Emanuel Sivan, The 1948 Generation: Myth, Profile and Memory (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Ma’arakhot, 1991); Dan Horowitz, The Heavens and the Earth: A Self-Portrait of the 1948 Generation (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Keter, 1993); Anita Shapira, “’Generation in the Land’,” in New Jews, Old Jews (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1997), pp. 122-154; Oz Almog, The Sabra: A Profile (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1997).
  8. For summations of the “Generation of 1948” from the literary point of view, see Reuven Kritz, Hebrew Narrative Fiction of the Struggle for Independence Era (Hebrew) (Kiryat Motzkin: Poreh, 1978); Nurit Gertz, Generation Shift in Literary History: Hebrew Narrative Fiction in the Sixties (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Porter Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1984); Gershon Shaked, Hebrew Narrative Fiction 1880-1980, vol. 4: In the Chains of Time. Israeli Realism 1938-1980 (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv-Jerusalem: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1993); Avner Holtzman, “The Fiction of the ‘Generation in the Land’,” in Zvi Zameret and Hanna Yablonka, eds., The First Decade 1948-1958 (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, 1998), pp. 263-280.
  9. Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis (New York: Free Press, 1986), p. 290.
  10. A striking example of the change of values that is being fomented in the criticism is the book by Mishka Ben-David, From Pleshet to Ziklag: Studies in the Novels of the War of Independence (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense Publishing House, Sifriat Tarmil, 1990). This study illustrates the complexity of the corpus of works that is under discussion and shows that a wide range of views on every subject is found in the fiction of the War of Independence. Ben-David’s conclusions totally undermine the conventional image invoked in criticism such as that of Tom Segev, cited above.
  11. An allusion to the famous opening sentence of Moshe Shamir’s 1951 novel, With His Own Hands: “Elik was born from the sea.” This sentence, which was wrenched from its context and incorrectly interpreted by many authors, became the foundation stone of the sabras’ supposed break with their past.
  12. Amnon Rubinstein, “The Rise and Fall of the Mythological Sabra,” in To Be a Free People (Hebrew) (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Schocken, 1977), pp. 103, 110, 135.
  13. Below are only a few of the most prominent full-length studies and collections of articles that have appeared in the last decade alone: Hanna Yablonka, Foreign Brethren: Holocaust Survivors in the State of Israel 1948-1952 (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Ben-Gurion University Press, 1994); Yaakov Markovicki, Fighting Ember: Recruitment of New Immigrants in the War of Independence (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: The Center for the History of the Haganah Defense Force and the Ministry of Defense, 1995); Dalia Ofer, ed., Israel in the Great Wave of Immigration 1948-1953 (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, 1996); Yoel Rapel, ed., Bonds of Silence: The Surviving Remnant and the Land of Israel (Hebrew) (28th “Massuah” Yearbook) (Tel Aviv: Publishing House of the Ministry of Defense and Massuah – Holocaust Studies Institute, 2000; Ronny Stauber, Lesson for this Generation: Holocaust and Heroism in Israeli Public Discourse in the 1950s (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Ben-Gurion Heritage Center, Kiryat Sde Boker, and Ben-Gurion University Press, 2000).
  14. Among the most prominent books in this group are Tom Segev, The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust (New York: Hill and Wang, 1991); Idith Zertal, From Catastrophe to Power: Holocaust Survivors and the Emergence of Israel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Yosef Grodzinsky, Good Human Material: Jews vs. Zionists 1945-1951 (Hebrew) (Or Yehuda: Hed Artzi, 1998). See also Anita Shapira’s criticism of this research school, in which she exposes its anti-Zionist motives: Anita Shapira, “The History of the Mythology: Approaches to a Historiography on Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust,” in Alpayim (Hebrew), no. 18 (1999), pp. 24-53. For a pained and trenchant reaction to Zertal’s book, see Haim Gouri, “On Books and On What’s Between Them,” ibid., no. 14 (1997), pp. 9-30.
  15. Aharon Appelfeld, Burn of the Light (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1980; see also Gershon Shaked, “Transport to Palestine,” in Wave after Wave in Hebrew Narrative Fiction (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Keter, 1985), pp. 27-32.
  16. David Schütz, White Rose, Red Rose (Hebrew)(Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: Hakibbutz Hameuchad / Siman Kria Books and Keter, 1988). See also Avner Holtzman, “Memory as Kaleidoscope: A Study of David Schütz’s White Rose, Red Rose,” in Alei-Siach (Hebrew), no. 26 (Spring 1989), pp. 69-76.
  17. Benjamin Harshav, “The Surviving Remnant,” “Peter the Great,” “Appendix: The Private Foul-Up,” The Poems of Gabi Daniel (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Siman Kria Books, 1990), pp. 94- 100. On the furor that was stirred by the poem “Peter the Great,” see Anita Shapira, “Historiography and Memory: The Case of Latrun 1948,” in New Jews, Old Jews, pp. 46-85; Ziva Ben-Porat, “Gabi Daniel and the Theory of Literature,” in idem., ed., An Overcoat for Benjamin: The Jubilee Book for Benjamin Harshav, vol. 1 (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Porter Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1999), pp. 99-130.
  18. Natan Zach, “Who Is a Jewish Writer, What Is a Jewish Book,” Ma’ariv (Hebrew), November 29, 1991.
  19. Hanoch Bartov, “The Wicked Slander about Our Indifference to the Holocaust,” in idem, I Am Not the Mythological Sabra (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1995), pp. 26-36.
  20. Zerubavel Gilead, “The Robbed Bird,” in Mibifnim (1940), collected in idem, Conversation on the Beach (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1954), pp. 39-49. Zerubavel Gilead (1912-1988) was born in Bessarabia and arrived in Palestine in 1922. After returning from a mission to Poland, he wrote about his meetings with Polish Jewry and its leaders on the very eve of the Holocaust. In the 1940s he was a member of the National Headquarters of the Palmach and an information and cultural officer of the force; he also wrote the Palmach anthem. His reputation rests mainly on his many volumes of poetry.
  21. See Zerubavel Gilead, “Between Town and Forest: With Frumka Plotnicka,” A Conversation that Never Ended (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Mameuchad, 1974), pp. 11-15; Zerubavel Gilead and Dorothea Krook, “Mission to Poland – People,” in Gideon’s Spring: A Man and His Kibbutz (New York: Tickner and Fields, 1985), pp. 174-194.
  22. Shoshana Shrira, “The Girl from the Ghetto,” in Gilyonot, vol. 14, no. 10 (February 1943), pp. 176-180. Collected in idem., The Green Nile (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: M. Neuman, 1947), pp. 121-128. On the story, see Kritz, The Fiction, pp. 237-238. Shoshana Shrira was born in the Ukraine in 1917, arrived in Palestine in 1925, and lives in Tel Aviv. Since 1937, she has published dozens of stories in the literary press, along with several novels.
  23. See Shoshana Shrira, “On the Knack for Idealization We Have Lost (An Autobiographical Note Until 1948),” in Kritz, The Fiction, pp. 237-238.
  24. Yigal Kimhi, “Motel Partisan,” Gazit (Hebrew), vol. 6, no. 5-6 (January-February 1944), pp. 25-27. Collected in idem, Tents: Stories from Somewhere (Jerusalem, 1944), pp. 59-70. Yigal Kimhi, the son of the writer Dov Kimhi, was born in Jerusalem in 1915. In World War II he served in the British air force and then in the Haganah. From 1949, he was the secretary to Israel’s President Chaim Weizmann. Apart from the collection of stories, he worked mainly as a translator.
  25. Yigal Mossinsohn, “Ashes” in Mishmar (September 17, 1944). Collected in idem, Gray as Sack (Hebrew) (Merhavia: Sifriat Poalim, 1946); and in Gray as Sack: Stories and Plays (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Bialik, 1989), pp. 100-108. On the story, see Kritz, The Fiction, pp. 145- 148. Yigal Mossinsohn (1917-1994) was born in Ein Ganim, near Petah Tikva; his parents were members of the Second Aliyah. He was a member of Kibbutz Na’an until 1950. Beginning in 1944, he published short stories, novels, and plays dealing with current events and with historical episodes. Mossinsohn was one of the leading writers of the “Generation of 1948” in the 1940s and 1950s.
  26. Moshe Shamir, “The Second Stutter,” in Yalqut Ha’re’im, second collection (Hebrew) (Summer 1945); and in The Book of “The Companions’ Anthology” (Hebrew), pp. 111-136. Collected in idem, And Even to See Stars (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved/Yedioth Ahronoth/Sifrei Hemed, 1994), pp. 142-167. On the story, see Kritz, The Fiction, pp. 69-72; Nurit Govrin, “The Holocaust in the Hebrew Literature of the Young Generation,” Zafon (Hebrew), 3 (1995), pp. 151-160. On the context in which the story was published and its place in debunking the conventional image of the “Generation in the Land,” see idem, “ Yalqut Ha’re’im: The Reality of Continuity and the Myth of a Beginning,” in Reuven Tsur and Tova Rosen, eds., Yisrael Levin Jubilee Volume (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: University of Tel Aviv, 1995), vol. 2, pp. 21-52. Moshe Shamir was born in Safed in 1921, and grew up in Tel Aviv. One of the pillars of the literature of the “Generation of 1948,” he is the author of dozens of works, among them the novels He Walked Through the Fields (1947), Under the Sun (1950), The King of Flesh and Blood (1954), David’s Stranger (1956), and the memoir of his brother, who was killed in the War of Independence, With His Own Hands (1951).
  27. Moshe Shamir, He Walked Through the Fields (Hebrew) (Merhavia: Sifriat Poalim, 1947; new edition, Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1973).
  28. For a detailed literary discussion of the novel, see Reuven Kritz, “A Realistic Bildungsroman: Lines of Characterization and Story Patterns in He Walked Through the Fields,” in idem, Story Patterns (Hebrew) (Kiryat Motzkin: Poreh, 1976), pp. 280-300. On the ongoing presence of this novel in Israeli culture, see “Fifty Year Anniversary of Moshe Shamir’s Book He Walked Through the Fields,” in Jewish Studies (Hebrew), no. 39 (1999), pp. 51-110 (including articles by Michal Arbel, Gad Kaynar, Judd Ne’eman, and Avigdor Poseq).
  29. Yehudit Hendel, “They Are Other,” first published in Molad (Hebrew) (April 1949) under the title “Overloaded.” Collected in idem., They Are Different People: Short Stories (Hebrew) (Merhavia: Sifriat Poalim, 1950), pp. 9-66 (new edition: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2000). Yehudit Hendel was born in Warsaw in 1926, and was brought to Palestine as an infant. She has been a published author since 1942; eight volumes of her fictional and documentary prose in a variety of genres have appeared to date.
  30. See, especially, Nurit Gertz, “‘I Am the Other’: The Place of the Holocaust Survivor in Yehudit Hendel’s ‘They Are ‘Different People,’” in Ben-Porat, ed., An Overcoat, vol. 1, pp. 150-169; Avner Holtzman, “‘From the Ladder of a Ship to the Front Lines’: On the History of the Literary Image of the New-Immigrant Soldiers,” in Hanna Naveh, ed., Sadan: Studies in Hebrew Literature. Vol. 5: The Representation of the War of Independence in Hebrew Literature (Hebrew) (forthcoming).
  31. Yigal Mossinsohn, Way of a Man (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: N. Tversky Publishers, 1953).
  32. Hanoch Bartov, Each Had Six Wings (Hebrew) (Merhavia: Sifriat Poalim, 1954; second version, Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1973). Hanoch Bartov was born in Petah Tikva in 1926 to a religious family and in World War II served in Europe in the Jewish Brigade (he drew on his experiences in the unit for his novel The Brigade, 1965). He began to publish short stories in 1945, and, since 1953, has published numerous novels. Bartov is considered one of the most important writers of his generation.
  33. See also Nurit Gertz, “Zionism, the Kibbutz and the Small town: The Struggle for the Soul of the New Immigrants in Hanoch Bartov’s Each Had Six Wings,” in Studies in Zionism, the Yishuv and the State of Israel (Hebrew), vol. 8 (1998), pp. 498-521.
  34. Shlomo Nitzan, Togetherness (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1956; new edition, including the three sections of the trilogy, Between Him and Them, Togetherness, and Not Even a Tent Peg, Jerusalem: Bialik, 1991). Shlomo Nitzan was born in Latvia in 1922, and immigrated to Palestine in 1933. His first stories were published in the early 1940s. He is also well known as the author of children’s books and was, for many years, an editor of the children’s weekly Mishmar Leyeladim. The trilogy, which was first published between 1953 and 1960, is his major work.
  35. See also Dan Miron, “The Landscape of History as an Interior Scene: On Shlomo Nitzan’s Togetherness Trilogy,” in idem, Essays on Literature and Society (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Zmora Bitan, 1991), pp. 278-303.
  36. Mossinsohn, Way of a Man, p. 123.
  37. This point is elaborated by Dan Laor, “Between Reality and Vision. On the Reflection of the Mass Immigration in the Israeli Novel,” in Mordechai Naor, ed., New Immigrants and Transit Camps: 1948-1952 (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, Iddan Series, 1987), pp. 205-220; idem, “‘Mass Immigration’ and the Language of Literature,” in Zionism (Hebrew), no. 14 (1989), pp. 161-175.
  38. Bartov, Each Had Six Wings, p. 225 in the 1973 edition. In the same year that Bartov’s novel was originally published, Aharon Megged wrote his well-known story “Yad Vashem” (meaning, literally, a memorial), which is focused entirely on the question of what to name a newborn infant – should he be called Mendele, as the aged grandfather wishes, in memory of his grandson who perished in the Holocaust, or Ehud, as his parents prefer, to symbolize the drawing of a line over the past and the opening of a new era of life in Israel. The boy is finally given the name Ehud, though it is apparent that inwardly the narrator does not fully accept this choice.
  39. Shamir, He Walked Through the Fields, pp. 117-118, 1973 edition.
  40. This was the argument adduced by Moshe Shamir in a debate he conducted in 1953, with the critic Azriel Uchmani, who called on writers to enter into the world of the new immigrants “in the name of the life that is taking shape.” For further discussion of this subject, see Avner Holtzman, “Toward People or Beyond Literature: Uchmani, Shamir and the Debate Over Socialist Realism in Hebrew Literature,” in Alei Siach (Hebrew), no. 36 (1995), pp. 127-140.
  41. “Their work traced the collective biography of the generation and referred to it. Although they tried to breach the confines of that biography, some areas of their surroundings remained sealed to them: they knew the survivors only from the outside” (Shaked, Hebrew Narrative Fiction, p. 27). At the same time, Shaked notes: “The literature since Megged and Bartov was far more generous than the society in its attitude toward the survivors” (ibid., p. 370).
  42. Bartov, “The Wicked Slander about Our Indifference to the Holocaust.”