A Round Line- On Second Genration in Israel

Lecture at the Conference "Shadows of the Holocaust"

Los Angeles, November 1988

Why was she spared?
At the age of twenty six I finally found the courage to pose the question to my mother. Why was she saved while all the others were not? This, I believe, is the enigma haunting all Holocaust survivors for the rest of their lives.

We were sitting in the kitchen in Tel-Aviv. The kitchen of mychildhood. But I was not a child anymore. I was already amother myself. But only at this point in my life I dared open a painful dialogue with my own mom. The reason was a book I was writing called "A Hat of Glass".

At first she did not answer my question. She was silent. But this was going to be her last silence. I felt that I had to break it. My mother looked through the window. A tree grewoutside, covered with leaves. She pointed to the tree and said: "I survived like one of these leaves. If you would go out and pluck one leaf you would not have chosen it. Only circumstances kept me alive. Sheer coincidence. Call it fate if you like..."

But I was not satisfied, so I persisted with my question and she gave me a second explanation for her survival - The round line. She said she was born with a round face, and even when she weighted 21 kilo's, the line around her face created the illusion that she is healthy, that she is capable of working, that she is still worth living.

The book I was writing at that time I titled "A Hat of Glass". Glass is a transparent material that transfers everything. It reflects light and shadow at the same time. Neverthless, it is a material that blocks and creats ascreen. You can observe things without being realy involved.

This hat we ,the sons and daughters of the survivors, carry on our heads. We wear the hat without being aware that it exist. For many years I have tried to ignore it. I was scared of what I might find out. The secret agreement in the house was silence. My mother would not tell and we would never ever ask.

There was only one code for terror during my childhood days - Auschwitz. It was a key word to a terrifying tale. and I never used the menacing power of that singular word. I felt that using of this word will inflict pain upon my mother. Because there is a strange pattern in which a child has a power to hurt his mother, I was extra careful.

Although there was not a direct line of information about the terrible past, when I grew up I found out that silence conveyed everything. As a child of survivors, in a mysteriousway, you found out the essential fact - your parent suffered beyond belief. You are the child of people with an amputated past, and the amputated organ still hurts many years after it was cut off from the body.

The title story in "A Hat of Glass" is based on a true story my mother told. This was the only fragment that leaked out in all those years. It focuses on a woman in a concentration camp who saves all her inmates by conducting a lesbian relationship with her Nazi officer.

But this tale deals with mercy and compassion. It was never told as a horror story. My mother spoke only about human dignity under the worst humiliating circumstances. This became my basic position in writing. Glass is ibdeed transparent but it has weight. The hat is a canopy over ourheads although we consider ourselves "The new Israelis".

There is no other people in the world that was compelled by force to change its identity so dramatically as the Jewish people.

In order to build a new life in a new land we had to reject our classical Jewish identity, we had to deny the sterotype of the East Europen Jew. This was the identity that betrayed us. Both our old identities - the Jewish and the European, had forsaken us. Instead we had to create an entirely new Israeli identity, based on a totaly different model. We could build a new society only as a negation to "those who went like sheepto the slaughter". A new Israeli was created; a hero, awarrior, a Macho type. He is the one who repeats obsessively "Holocaust will never happen again!"

Moshe Shamir's famous Israeli novel begins with the words "Elik was born from the sea". For many years we preferred to empahsize our starting afresh, with only a remote link to the past. But we realize now that there is a price to pay for a new identity. After forty years many of the "new Israelis" realize there is no such thing as a "blank page".

Under our Epidermis there is another layer of skin, and no matter how we try to break away from the "old Jew" it is still alive underneath. We can no longer struggle to ignore our parent's past or to be humiliated by it. This is part of us, our legitimate organ. My book is not about the Holocaust. I was not there. It is about me and my generatin. A book about the shadow Holocaust casts upon us.

The word "Shoah" appears in my book only once, as a title of the story "Private Holocaust". This is the exact process I discovered in writing: Reduce the slogans which my generation grew up on into a personal experience. The slogans were always bigger than life and thus incomprehensible. Slogans kept us at a distance from trying to confront the private dimension of events.

What I did was trying to seek in the huge entity just one person.

The de-humanization of Nazism created a Mythological monster, but I try to remember that the crimes were done by people to other people. Crimes of human beings against their fellowmen. Nazism, I'm sorry to say, is something within the framework of humannature!

Since the early days of Israel a Memorial Holocaust Day has been observed. To this day it's called "Memorial Day of Holocaust and Heroism", with an emphisize on physical "Heroism". We needed that in order to create the new Israeli model.

The paradox was that I could participate in all memorial day services in school. I even took an active part in all the rituals, but I never came home to ask my mother a simple question: "You were there, what took place in your private Holocaust?"

I did not choose to write about Holocaust survivor'schildren. This choice was made unconciously. I innocently thought I was simply writing stories, but I realized that in some mysterious way my hand and my mind were drawn like a magnet to the"forbidden place" - the nucleus of silence in my childhoodhome. The only thing I did choose on purpose is to transmit my anguish into the only form that exists within my power - writing.

This is not only a therapeutic experience, but an inevitable process of maturity.

Writing means digging into the dark corners of myself, banging my head against the walls, where tears and torment hide.

At the age of twenty six I finally understood that my parent's torment has had a significance in the context of my own life, in my pattern of behaviour, and in my concept of the world.

The realm of literature lies somewhere between two ends of a rope - distance and closeness. I do rely on biographical sources but I never write about reality itself. This is the task of the researcher and scholar but not of the author. He creates a new reality in fiction. Biography is for me raw material, bricks to build a new world with the assistance of words. My challenge as a writer and my torture at the same time is to become the tresspassor of myself.

Last Holocaust Memorial day I published a short story under the title "A Round Line". I checked three photographsof my mother. One from 1941, the second from 1962, and a recent picture in which my mother was photographed with her three grandchildren. Throughout the story I checked whether the round line still exists. My small son looked at the last photograph, recognized himself among the children and said: "Look Mom, we also have a round line surrounding our faces, does that mean that we shall be saved too?"

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