Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, February 15, 2019

"Yosele" -A Short Story by Blume Lempel. translated from Yiddish by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, 2016

In Image above, upper left Blume Lempel in Paris, to the right Blume and her husband to be in Paris

"So here I sit, writing from right to left. My older brother watches over me, telling me what to write in Yiddish. I can’t very well ask him not to speak in the language of exile. Blessed with the gifts of a prodigy, he knows what I’m thinking. Yiddish is not a language of exile, he answers my unspoken words —it is mame-loshn, our mother tongue. I have tremendous respect for my brother. He believed in the goodness of man, the goodness of all. He met with a double disaster —disappointed first in his faith, then in himself. Now he watches over me, directing my stories from beyond the grave with a sure touch. This is how it
was. This is what happened. So must it be recorded. Each according to his ability must convey what he saw, what he lived through, what he thought, what he felt. You did not survive simply to eat blintzes with sour cream. You survived to bring back those who were annihilated. You must speak in their tongue, point with their fingers" - from The Fate of the Yiddish Writer by Blume Lempel

Blume Lempel

Born 1907 in The Ukraine

Moved to Paris in 1929, to be near her brother who lived there.

While in Paris she worked as a furrier and attended night school.

1939- having married and had two children, her Family moved to New York State, out of concern over rising anti-Semiticism.  Many in her extended Family died in The Holocaust as would she and her Family had they not left.  In 1942 French authorities in a compromise with the Germans, agree to arrest and turn over to the Germans all foreign born Jews. 

1943- begins to publish with a Short Story, all her writings were in Yiddish.  In part this was her way of defying those who wanted the magnifcient Yiddish Cultural tradition destroyed.

In 1950 the Family locates permanently in Long Island.

1999 passes away.

Her stories are a world class literary treasure.

In a number of works  by Holocaust scholars I have read, the sense of guilt felt by Jews who safely set out the war years in exhile is treated.  Nearly all lost family in the Holocaust.  Lempel upon learning of the murder of her brother, her father and step mother isolated herself in her house for years.  She was finally drawn out by a desirebto tell the stories of the lost and the might have been.  How this happened is explained in this very good article,  

Modern in Autumn
The Belated Discovery of Blume Lempel
Written by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Published Spring 2019 . In Pakn Treger- The Magazine of the Yiddish Book Center.   Linked below

"Yosele" is a very powerful story about Holocaust survivors.  In it Lempel mixes current events with life during the Holocaust.  It is not an easy work to understand.  The central figures are an elderly married couple, their years hiding from the murderers were long passed.  As the story opens, the wife had just fell to her death from their apartment window.

"When Tsirele Zilber fell out of the window and died, neither the radio nor the newspapers reported the news. After all, there’s no limit to the misfortunes that can befall a person. Every day in New York, people are killed, injured, raped, robbed, and burned. Many speed the end by their own hand. There was no doubt that Tsirele’s death was an accident. No one suspected suicide. Yoyne, her husband, did wonder, but he buried the thought deep within himself, along with all his other suspicions."

I really have to recast the plot of this story to any large degree.  When the couple met, Tsirele was delirious with fever, her prior husband and child had been killed by Ukrainian supporters of the Holocaust.  They soon married, the husband, a widower, had an eight year old daughter.  The life long guilt of the wife was her in ability to see the daughter as anything but a poor substitute for her lost son.  She lived with deep guilt over what she deeply felt was an adulterous marriage to Yoyne.

Her husband thinks back to the time they were told by someone that the Germans planned to kill all the Jews.  He at first thought this had to be crazy, his German neighbors were so nice, Germans so civilized.  In future years he had German neighbors in New York City.  He wondered how he would act if things were reversed

"After each encounter with the neighbor, a melancholy overtook him. At night he lay in bed wrestling with the question of what could turn a person into a murder-machine. He wondered whether he himself could ever be part of such a mass psychosis. Would he be able to split open the head of his neighbor’s only son merely because he was German? Would he be able to watch his neighbor’s house burn down and not run to the rescue? Could he set it on fire himself and watch to see how his neighbor reacted? These macabre thoughts kept him wide awake until he swallowed a pill that would transport him from nightmarish reality to nightmarish dream."

We learn the truth about death of Tsirele as the story closes.

Lempel takes us deeply into the lasting impact of the Holocaust, sometimes a victim will linger on fifty years, then die.

(This story was originally published in 1986.)

Mel u


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