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April 26, 1974 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1974-04-26

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Mandelstams' Struggles, Jewish Role in USSR Emerge in 'Hope Abandoned'

Osip Mandelstam, now rec-
ognized as one of Russia's
greatest poets, and his wife,
Nadezhda Mandelstam, were
both persecuted. Osip was
Stalin's victim because he
had written a poem about
the dictator and his crimes.
He described Stalin as a het-
man whose savoring of death
was like a raspberry.
(The raspberry reference
is explained by Nadezhda
Mandelstam in this footnote:
("In Russian malinovy de-
rives from matina ("rasp-
berry") and occurs in several
expressions implying rich-
ness, mellowness and
warmth. The author mentions
malinovy zvon for a rich
chime of bells (though here
the word is derived, by popu-
lar etymology, from Malines,
in Belgium, where such bells
were cast). Mali= can also
mean a feast or a treat, and
is used in this sense in Man-
delstam's poem about Stalin
("and every killing is a treat
for the broad-chested Ossete"
—quoted here in the text,
where, as the author says, its
use in a bitterly ironical
sense does not contradict her
point about the warm associa-
tions of the word)."
That started the series of
cruelties, Mandelstam's ex-
ile, his io
rture which nearly
drove him to suicide. The
poem was written in 1934.
The Mandelstams were then
subjected to many harass-
ments and they struggled in
poverty during the coming
years of misery. Then Man-
delstam was arrested again
in 1938. - He was not heard
from and it was not until
much later that his wife
learned that he died seven
months after his arrest. It
is assumed that it was one
of Stalin's purges: one of
the murders.
In 1970 Mrs. Mandelstam
wrote the now famous ac-
count of that struggle in
"Hope Against Hope." The
new work that supplements
that classic, Nadezhda Man-
d els t a m's "Hope Aban-
doned," published by Athen-
eum, like the earlier one
brilliantly translated by Max
Hayward, adds immensely
to the knowledge about the
poet and his able wife, whose
descriptions of the Mandel-
stam saga are now among
the modern literary classics;
whose thus recorded refer-
ences to Russian authors
serve magnificently as a lit-
erary history; whose recol-
lections of their Jewish back-
ground implement knowledge
about Russian Jewish experi-
ences.
"Hope Abandoned" is such
a remarkable book that it
could well be judged as in-
separable from the best in
modern historically descrip-
tive chronicles about Russia,
her authors and politicians,
the struggles for freedom,
the agonies and despairs.
Perhaps it is because
Nadezhda Mandelstam is now
74 that she can write without
hindrance. But then this also
is an age without Stalin. Yet,
the Aleksandr L. Solzhenitsyn
persecutions might also have
been applied -to her. There
are references to Solzhenit-
syn in the Mandelstam story
which rates many of the
poets and novelists and
serves as a guide to their

48—Friday, April 26, 1974

OSIP MANDELSTAM

literary products as well as
their personalities.
She comments, as an ex-
ample, about Joseph Alex-
andrevich Brodski, and she
states about the man now a
member of the University of
Mi Chi ga n faculty, about
whom she declares:
"I have heard Brodski read
his verse. An active part in
the process is played by his
nose. I have never known
anything like it before in all
my life: his nostrils expand
and contract and do all kinds
of funny things, giving a
nasal twang to each vowel
and consonant. It is like a
wind orchestra. He is,
nevertheless, a remarkable
young man who will come to
a bad end, I fear. Whether
a good poet or not, the fact
is that he is one, and this
cannot be denied him. In
our time it is hard luck to
be a poet—and a Jew into
the bargain."
The book is, of course,
about Mandelstam. It is also
about Mrs. Mandelstam the
author. It is in many ways
about themselVes as Jews
and is a Jewishly philosophic
commentary.
The personal aspects, the
recollections of the forced
separation from her husband,
the unending effort to keep
aloft the glory of her hus-
band's genius — these are
major in the telling.
Mrs. M. writes extensive-
ly about the poet Anna Akh-
matova who was her hus-
band's loyal friend and whose
activities are among the ma-
jor dealt with in tackling
the Russian literary folk. As
on many other occasions,
there are references to the
Jews and Mrs. -M. wrote:
"Where have so many Jews
come from, after all the pog-
roms and gas chambers? In
the crowd at Akhmatova's
funeral their numbers were
disproportionately large. I
never saw anything like this
in my youth. Then there were
many brilliant Russian intel-
lectuals as well, but now you
can almost count them on the
fingers of one hand . . . Peo-
ple say they have all been
destroyed, but since all eth-
nic groups were equally af-
fected by the various waves
of whole destruction, I do not
find this explanation convin-
cing. The fact is that the re-
surgent intelligentsia of the
present consists of Jews and
half-Jews—though they often
come from grimly positivist
families in which the par-
ents still go on mouthing the
same old ossified balderdash.
Many of the younger ones

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

have also become Christians.
or think on religious lines. I
once said to Akhmatova that
we are going through the
times of early Christianity
all over again, which was
why so many Jews were be-
coming converts . . ."
The irony of Jewishness is
in evidence when Mrs. M.
relates how at one time, dur-
ing the Revolution, M. was
referred to as the "Jewboy":
"All this, however, was the
natural rivalry between gen-
erations, feuding among dif-
ferent sects—what M. called
'literary malice' — and the
`Jewboy' did not feel es-
tranged from surroundings,
because he was aware of liv-
ing in a society made up of
many different circles, each
with its particular attitude to
people. He already had his
own group of friends, his
`we,' and even in circles
where he was not accepted
there was always one or two
people who stood up for the
`Jewboy,' recognizing that he
was endowed with a sense of
his own 'poetic rightness.' "
Nadezhda Mandelstam
turned historian and religi-
ous analyst in a chapter on
"The Wandering Jew." She
commented on the Russified
Jews "who are a little like the
Sadducees," about the per-
secutions, the gas chambers,
Stalin's anti-Semitism, his
charges that Jewish physi-
cians were Zionists and "kill-
er doctors." Then she stated
about her husband's Jewish-
ness:
"M., who was Osip, not Jo-
seph, (the footnote states
that the first is a popular
Russian form of the second),
in his birth certificate, never
forgot he was a Jew, but his
`blood memory" was of a
peculiar kind. It went right
back to his biblical ances-
tors, to Spain, and to the
Mediterranean. r e t a i n i n g
nothing from the wanderings
through central Europe. In
other words, he felt his af-
finity with the shepherds and
kings of the Bible, with the
Jewish poets and philosoph-
ers of Alexandria and Spain,
and had even decided that
one of them was his direct
ancestor: a Spanish poet
who was kept on a chain in
a dungeon during the Inquisi-
tion."
Additional comment about
"The Doctors' Plot," the Sta-
linist anti-Semitism, is im-
plemented • with a compari-
son, the form that the suf-
ferings of Polish Jews had
assumed. Then she wrote
again:
"A remarkable thing about
the Jews is that, apart from
suffering the lot of their own
people, they also have to
share the misfortunes of
those in whose country they
have put up their tents. Even
a Jew who publicly renounces
his Jewishness still goes to
the gas chambers with the
others, like any member of
the alien tribe whose lan-
guage he speaks. M., a Jew
and a Russian poet, paid—
and still pays—a double or
treble price for everything.
Even worse, he was a Euro-
pean and a Russian intellec-
tual brought up to believe
that words were not to be
treated lightly. All these
crimes, taken together or
separately, were punishable
with all the severity of which

our laws were capable."
Portraying family relation-
ships, two Jewish families
with differing interests that
were yet akin, Mrs. M.
e m e r g e s here thoroughly
links with M.—and together,
another Mandelstam told her,
"the family counted as a
Yiches, as one coming from
a noble rabbinical line."
*
*
Much is said about her hus-
band's poem "The Young
Levite" in which is foretold
the destruction of Jerusalem,
as in prophecy. It is on the
subject of "dying Petersburg,
the end of the Petersburg of
the Russian era."
There is the personal note.
There was an infatuation
with Olga (Anna) Akhma-
tova. There was the tense-
ness until she found herself:
"While he was still alive,
I had no thought of 'finding
myself.' We lived too intense-
ly and intimately to think of
`searching' f o r ourselves.
There is a curious poem of
M.'s which he wrote in the
Crimea, while thinking of
me. He did not tell me at
the time what the meaning
of that poem was—at that
tender age I should have
been up in arms if I had
known the fate he had in
mind for me. The poem is
about a woman named Leah,
not Helen, 'because to Ilium's
sun you preferred a yellow
twilight.' Our relationship
must have aroused in him
a keen awareness of his Jew-
ish roots, a tribal feeling, a
sense of kinship with his peo-
ple—I was the only Jewess
in his life. He thought of the

en mountains,' and the erup-
tions of color begin only
after the meeting with the
`Chief of the Jews,' to whom
he will say a biblical selah
in return for his 'crimson
caress.' "
* *

NADEZHDA MANDELSTAM

Jews as being one family,
hence the theme of incest in
the poem: 'Go, no one shall
touch you, / let the incestu-
ous daughter / lay her head
at dead of night / on her
father's breast.' The daugh-
ter, having fallen in love with
a Jew, was destined to re-
nounce herself and be dis-
solved in him: No. you will
love a Jew / and disappear
in him, and God be with
you.' " Mrs. M.'s chapter
about "The Chief of the
Jews'• is about Mandel-
stam's " `Canzone' Armenia,
his 'Sabbath Land,' as he
called it. Mrs. M. notes: "In
his `Canzone' M. virtually
names the country to which
he is so powerfully drawn—
since he hopes for a meeting
with the 'Chief of the Jews,'
this journal in the mind's
eye is the Promised Land.
It can be reached only by
way of the 'land of unshav:

In a time when the "Who
Is a Jew?" question puzzles
and dazzles many, this addi-
tional comment by Nadezhda
Mandelstam is of added in-
terest:
"I once read somewhe
how an American journal,. _
asked his father, a learned
rabbi: 'What is a Jew?' His
father replied: 'Just a human
being,' but then he thought
a moment and added, 'only
perhaps a little more of a
human being than other peo-
ple.' The same thing, I be-
lieve, is true of poets: hence
their sense of guilt, the need
for repentance, the payment
of 'dire retribution.' Isn't
this the reason that 'in our
most Christian world the
poets are the Jews?' "
"Hope Abandoned" is pow-
erful, intriguing, informative,
challenging. It's the type of
book that compels the read-
er's attention, keeping him
glued to. contents that are
filled with the exciting in-
cidents that affected the
Mandelstams and related to
the agonies of a nation and
a generation. In the author's
own effective way, strength-
ened by the perfect Max Hay-
ward translation from the
Russian, "Hope Abandoned"
assumes a place of major
significance in world litera-
ture. —P. S.

Alumni of 1st AZA Group to Celebrate

Members of Detroit Chapter 63, the first AZA chapter here, was organized in
the mid-1920s. Pictured above are the original members, some of whom are still active
and who will participate in the 50th anniversary dinner of AZA April 28 at Adat Shalom
Synagogue. The first chapter in the state was Phil Wasserman Chapter in Grand Rapid
formed July 6, 1924. The members of Detroit Chapter No. 63 are, from left, first row.
Reuben Halperin, Sam Farber, Leonard Goldstein, Philip Forman, Louis Cohen, Sam
Charfoos, Hyman Schwartz and Sidney Rein; middle: Sam Goren, Max Zweig, Al Kaltz,
Manton Saulson, Al Hendriks, Barney Nosanchuk and Dave Gooze; bottom: P. Raymond
Feiler, Charles Stolarsky, Fred Goldstein, Jess Feiler, Harold Horwitz, Samuel Himel,
Robert Zeff and Harold Raikow. Advisers were Henry Gottleib, Aaron Drook, Sam
Raskin, Rabbi Gordon and Edmond Sloman. The chapter first met in the Kirby Center,
in the Hastings area.

Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA),
the boys' division of the Bnai
Brith Youth Organization,
will culminate its 50th birth-
day celebration at the golden
anniversary dinner, 6 p.m.
Sunday at Adat Shalom Syn-
agogue.
The Bnai Brith Youth Or-
ganization (BBYO), with
over 1,000 members and
15,000 alumni in the metro-
politan Detroit area, also has
a number of chapters outstate.

The golden anniversary
dinner will be addressed by
Dr. Daniel Thursz, dean of
the school of social work and
community planning of the
University of Maryland; Mrs.
Louis (Anita) Perlman, in-
ternational chairman of the
Bnai Brith youth commission
and founder of Bnai Brith
Girls (BBG); and Dr. Max
F. Baer, international direc-
tor of the nai Brith Youth
Organization.

Proclamations honoring the
AZA 50th anniversary have
been issued by Gov. William
G. Milliken; the Michigan
State Legislature, introduced
by Senator Jack Faxon;
Southfield Mayor Donald F:
Fracassi; Oak Park Mayor
David H. Shepherd; Detroit
Mayor Coleman A. Young;
and Detroit Council President
Carl Levin.
For reservations call 354-
6113.

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