“It was the devastating news from across the Atlantic that brought her writing to a standstill. Her father’s wife and their young son, she learned, had been killed by the Nazis; her father then set fire to the family home and hanged himself. Her brother, who had joined the French resistance, was arrested and shot in Lyon. Increasingly despondent, she felt “paralyzed within a self-imposed prison,” she wrote later. “The years went by, many desolate, fruitless years.” A turning point came when a friend suggested she try writing about the catastrophic events that were consuming her. Taking up her pen once more, she discovered a new literary calling: to “speak for those who could no longer speak, feel for those who could no longer feel, immerse myself in their unlived lives, their sorrows, their joys, their struggle and their death.” Having left Europe on the eve of World War II, Lempel did not directly experience the roundups, mass executions, and concentration camps of the Holocaust. She offers glimpses of these, while powerfully exploring the experience of displacement, flight, and adaptation, as well as the special burden of remembrance and retribution, grief and guilt, carried by the living.” - from The Introduction Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories
Yiddish did not die In The Holocaust. There are few languages so much cherished, especially a language spoken as a first language only by small groups. There is intense scholarly study of Yiddish literature. The attack on The Yiddish speakers of Europe by The Nazis failed. It was an attack on a people who cherished Reading, Books, Knowledge as intrinsic goods.
Blume Lempel was born in the Ukraine in 1907. In 1929 she moved to Paris to be with her brother. She loved Paris, married there, and in 1939 she and her husband moved to Long Island, New York. She stayed there until her death in 1999. She had three children and began to write short stories in Yiddish, was widely published and won many awards. She was fluent in English, French, and had a working knowledge of Russian. She choice to write in Yiddish to speak for those lost in the Holocaust and to defy those who wanted the language wiped out. I am so glad I have found this collection and I thank the translators for this labor of love.
“Even the Heavens Tell Lies”, the lead story in the collection, assembled by the editors, is presented through the consciousness of a young woman who witnessed her parents being shot in a mass execution of Jews. She hid in the forests until the Russians army found her, after the Nazis were defeated. This terrible experience took from her the capacity to speak.
As far as I know, this very powerful story can be read only in the collection. I will let the narrator tell us her story, even if in her life she cannot.
“After the last roundup, when my parents were killed, I left Temke’s barn and went into the woods. The darkness that had once frightened me became my protector, sheltering and concealing me. The wind mingled my scent with the smells of the forest. The rain washed away my footprints. I followed the animals and kept away from people. The wind brought me the smell of berries, a dead bird, the rotten carcass of a half-devoured creature. Under cover of night, propelled by hunger, I pursued these scents. The forest took me in without tears, without words, receiving me with indifference, a naked, frank, and savage truth —one single truth for the worm in the grass, the rabbit in the thicket, tree, star, nuts, and me. In such profound connection, I would close my eyes without fear or sorrow. As I merged with the impersonal ways of nature, my body would forsake me —until the wind stirred and I descended once again to my hiding place. When I was discovered and returned to life among people, I was unable to utter a word. I thought I’d become deaf to human speech. But that was wishful thinking. In fact, I didn’t want to hear about the enormity of the disaster. Instead, I looked for answers with my eyes. I scrabbled in the garbage with my fingernails. I tasted the dust, pawed at the stones.”
Treated by a Russian Jewish doctor, nothing could return her speech.
There are 23 stories in collection. I hope to read and post on them in 2018. Her stories are more “modern” in method and content than older Yiddish stories.