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November 04, 1960 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1960-11-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

— Friday, November 4, 1960 — 48

THE DETROIT JEWISH

The Last of the Just,' Schwartz - Bar's
French Prize Winning Novel, Emphasizes
Allegorical La fined Vav Tzadikim Folklore

Lamed Vav Tzadikim is the
frequent reference in Jewish
traditions to the 36 saints who
are always among us as the re-
tainers of our faith and of Jew-
ish loyalty to our people's great
heritage. They are the unknown,
the just, the great defenders of
Jewry against any evil decree.
In a powerful novel entitled
"The Last of the Just," Andre
Schwartz-Bart has incorporated
a story about the Lamed Vav-
niks, about a 12th century rabbi,
Yom Tov Levy, and the genera-
tions who followed him—the
inheritors of the Lamed Vav
tradition and responsibility for
carrying on the ideal inherent in•
Jewish folklore.
"The Last of the Just" has
just been published by Athe-
neum Books (•62 E. 38th, N.Y.
16). In its French original—
the book was ably translated
into English by Stephen
Becker—the book sold 400,000
copies in - France in the first
four months of its publication
and it was awarded the Prix
Goncourt last November. The
French award was an unprece-
dented act, the selecting jury
having advanced the date of
making the award when it
learned that another group had
planned to bestow a similar
honor upon the author. Thus,
the Goncourt prize was the first
honor for "The Last of the
Just:"
This novel traces Jewish
historical developments from
the first of the Levy group
down to the last one, Ernie
Levy, who lives during the
Hitler regime. Ernie learns
about his privileged position
from his grandfather, Morde-
cai. He learns about a pledge
made in the old Anglican city
of York on March 11, 1185,
and while he often sins, he
remains loyal to a tradition
and to a heritage.
Ernie died in a Nazi gas
chamber. It is there that he
offers comfort to his fellow-
sufferers. The author's de-
scription of the final hour is
essential for an understanding
of the motivation. Schwartz-
Bart relates about the last ex-
pressions of affection by Ernie's
beloved and her passing and
he relates:
"Ernie managed to spit up
the needle of fire jabbing at
his throat, and as the woman's

body slumped against him, its
eyes wide in the opaque night,
he shouted against the uncon-
scious Golda's ear, 'In a little
while, I swear it!' And then he
knew that he could do nothing
more for anyone in the world,
and in the flash that preceded
his own annihilation he remem-
bered, happily, the legend of
Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion, as
Mordecai had joyfully recited
it: 'When the gentle rabbi,
wrapped in the scrolls of the
Torah, was flung upon the pyre
by the Romans for . having
taught the Law, and when they
lit the fagots, the branches still
green to make his torture last,
his pupils said, 'Master, what
do you see?' And Rabbi Cha-
•nina answered, 'I see the parch-
ment burning, but the letters
are taking wing.' • . . `Ah, yes,
surely, the letters are taking
wing.' Ernie repeated as the
flame blazing in his chest rose
suddenly to his head. With dy-
ing arms he embraced Golda's
body in an already unconscious
gesture of loving protection,
and they were found that way
half an hour later by the team
of SonderkOmmando respon-
sible for burning the Jews in
the crematory ovens. And so it
was for millions, who turned
from Luftmenschen into Luft.
I shall not translate. this
with some
story will not finish with
tomb to be visited in memo-
riam. For the smoke that rises
from crematoriums obeys phys-
ical laws like any other: the
particles come together and dis-
perse according to the wind
that propels them. The only
pilgrimage, estimable reader,
would be to look with sadness.
at a stormy sky now and then."
Therein lies the root of the
lesson taught by the Lamed
Vav-nik in "The Last of the
Just." It is the indictment of
injustice, the expose of bru-
tality, the condemnation of any
semblance of inhumanity of
man to man. A powerful para-
graph ends "The Last of the
Just!' Schwartz-Bart cries out
for the six million /who died
and for Ernie who symboliied
them, but with a remote hope:
"Yes, at times one's heart
could break in sorrow. But
often too, preferably in the
evening, I can't help thinking
that Ernie Levy, dead six mil-
lion times, is still alive some-

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where, I don't know where
. Yesterday, as I stood in
the street trembling in de-
spair, rooted to the spot, a
drop of pity fell from -above
upon my face. But there was
no breeze in the air, no cloud
in the sky ... There was only
a presence."
In Jewish tradition, there is
no dynasty. A Lamed Vav-nik
can arise from anywhere. A
Lamed Vav-nik does not inherit
his distinction. In the Schwartz-
Bart story, the Lamed Vav
Tzadikim are a continuous dy-
nasty. But when Schwartz-Bart
says that Ernie Levy may be
alive somewhere, he, too, con-
tinues the tradition by submit-
ting that the saintliness of the
pleaders for Jewish rights is
undying. That is the basis of
the Lamad Vav tradition.
"The Last of the Just" is
allegorical. It also is historical.
It is the fiercest indictment of
the cruelty of Nazism. It is as
great a book as the French jury
acclaimed it to be. A similar
decision no doubt also will come
from American readers.

.

LATE HENRIETTA SZOLD

*

0

* *

Story of Szolds Told in JPS Book;
Enhances Centennial of Henrietta Szold

Hadassah, the women's Zionist
organization, currently is celebrat-
ing the centennial of the birth of
its founder, Henrietta Szold, one
of the .geat women of our
century.
This celebration is not limited
to Hadassah. Jews everywhere
are paying tribute to the great
humanitarian, the noted. leader
who was responsible for the cre-
ation of the Youth Allyah ac-
tivities as a result of which
thousands of Jewish children were
rescued from the Nazi hangmen
and were settled in Israel.
The Henrietta Szold Centen-
nial is enriched by an important
book. "The Szolds of Lombard
Street," by Alexandra Lee Levin,
a niece of Miss Szold, just pub-
lished by the Jewish Publication
Society of America.
The subtitle of the book is
"A Baltimore Family — 1859-
1909," and Lombard Street
refers to the residence in Balti-
more whence emanated genius.
"The Szolds of Lombard
Street" is about the entire fam-
ily, about the Szolds who came
from the former Austria-
Hungary environment and set-
tled in Baltimore where Hen-
rietta's father, Dr. Benjamin
Szold, soon became one of
American Jewry's r ever e d
leaders.
Alexandra Lee Levin, who
was born in Washington, D.C.;
in 1912, majored in history at
Bryn Mawr College. She is mar-
ried to Marcus Jastrow Levin,
Henrietta Szold's nephew.

Acquiring access to the Szold
correspondence, she classified and
sorted the letters and found the
immense amount of material for
this book. She enlarged upon it,
did research to collect additional
data, described the entire family
and depicted the life of the re-
markable woman whose life's ac-
tivities stand out as a monument
to• hum'anitarianism.
Mrs. Levin and her husband,
who received a Fulbright Ex-
change teachership, have been
residing in London where she
is doing work on another bi-
ography, of a 19th century Scotch
woman writer.
"The Szolds of Lombardy
Street" introduces the reader to
the early Szolds, to life in Balti-
more, to Dr. Benjamin Szold's
activities during the Civil War,
his intervention in behalf of
a Jewish deserter with President
Lincoln.
It was in this environment
that Henrietta Szold grew up.
Her letters, written as a child,
and later, as a teen-ager, reveal
a sensitive being who was
moved by human events. She
mastered German, but on oc-
casions wrote to her mother in
English.
News of anti-Jewish riots in
Russia stirred her, and her
family, deeply. Meanwhile, life
went on, and each experience
brought interesting comments
from Henrietta. For instance,
from Cincinnati, where she
visited, she wrote that "the Jews
of Cincinnati are much more
intelligent than ours". . . that
"the Cincinnati University ad-
mits women under exactly the
same conditions as men, and
Translation of Hebrew column.
Published by Brit Ivrit Alamit.
most of the lady students are
Arabs in North Africa summoned the
Jewish leaders and said to them: Jewesses. . ."

The Marranos

"You have the alternative: Either em-
brace the Mohammedan religion or
die by the sword." There were some
Jews who were afraid and outwardly
embraced the Mohammedan religion,
but inwardly, in their hearts, con-
tinued to believe in God and observe
all the precepts of Judaism. These
Jews we called Anusim (literally:
"those who were forced" forced con-
verts or Marranos).
During this period Moses Maimon-
ides (Branham) who was then a child
of about 13 fled with his family to
another country.
One of the Marranos turned to a
scholar with the inquiry: What is the
status of the forced converts who out-
wardly behave like Moslems but in
their homes, inwardly, observe all
the precepts? This scholar had not
undergone all these bitter experiences
and therefore replied that these Jews
forced to convert were transgressors
of Israel. This reply brought despair
on the forced converts.
When Maimonides who was 26
heard this he immediately penned an
epistle called "The Sanctification of
the Name" (of God). In this epistle
written in Arabic, Maimonides strove
to encourage and strengthen the Mar-
ranos. This epistle in Hebrew trans-
lation has now been published by the
Rabbi Kook Institute in Jerusalem,
vocalized and with commentary. Who-
ever reads it will see how great was
Maimonides (of blessed memory) in

Torah and wisdom.

*

*

*

A work of mercy soon corn)
menced for Henrietta Szold and
her father. The Russian po-
groms resulted in an unprece-
dented migration of Russian
Jews to the United States, and
many of them came by way of
Baltimore. She wrote a note
that she "felt very much drawn
to these Russian Jews." Her
niece-biographer writes: "So
Henrietta, and her equally
tender-hearted father, made it
a practice to go down to the
wharfs to meet the incoming
boats laden with their woeful
cargoes. To the bewildered
strangers they gave advice and
kindness, money and love.. ..."
From his pulpit "Rabbi Szold
thundered forth against the
cruelties of the Czars." The
events of that time left their
marks indelibly upon the Szolds,
and were to be remembered

later on in the colorful career
of Henrietta.
* * *
Henrietta Szold "had been one
of a small group • of Jewish
leaders and educators who
realized that the rising and
prospering of Jews in America
required a spiritual develOp-
ment, a renewal of pride in
their literary heritage. Thus the
Jewish Publication Society had
been formed, the two-fold pur-
pose of which was to make the
Jewish classics • available to
readers in the English language
and to encourage contemporary
writers on Jewish subjects. The
only woman among this charter
member group, Henrietta Szold
was prevailed upon to become
and editor of Jewish Pubblica-
tion Society, and long hOurs of
her time went into correcting,
translating, perfecting, and even
writing parts of books of Jew-
ish interest. She was helping to
spread the best of the Old and
New World to her people . ."
In, the course of her literary
efforts, she showed an interest
in Emma Lazarus and wrote on
a variety of subjects, one article
being on the subject "What
Judaism Has Done for Women."
* *. *

At the turn of the century,
Henrietta consulted Dr. Solo-
mon Schechter and decided to
take a course at the Jewish
Theological Seminary. She left
Philadelphia and the Jewish
Publication Society, went to
New York and at that time
showed a deep interest in Zion-
ism and expressed faith in the
eventual establishment in Pales-
tine of the Jewish nation.
She was soon to turn her in-
terest and attention entirely to
Zionism and to the needs that
called for the formation of
Hadassah. Since Mrs. Levin's
account of her aunt's life ends
in 1909, that is not recorded.
But the closing paragraph in
her book reads in- part: " 'How
shall we sing the Lord's song
in a strange land?' The Fates
stopped their work. The cord
was finished. They placed Hen-
rietta's hand upon it, and faced
her east. 'If I forget thee, 0
Jerusalem . . Henrietta Szold
stood on the threshold of great-
ness."
"The Szolds of Lombardy
Street" is the introduction to
the era when Henrietta Szold
emerged as the greatest woman
of our time. Her niece wrote
about Henrietta's early - life.
The Hadassah story is yet to
come. But the introduction is
valuable for an understanding
of the woman's greatness..

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