A Holocaust Novel without a Silver Lining

Feb. 22 2018

In The Tree of Life, a Yiddish-language trilogy of the Holocaust set in the Polish city of Lodz, Chava Rosenfarb explores the lives of ten richly drawn characters before the war, and the fate that befell them once it began. (The trilogy was published in English translation in 2004.) While Rosenfarb herself was a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen, Dara Horn explains that the book is no memoir but an “immersive, engrossing, [and] exquisite” work of literary fiction, albeit one that confounds the expectations of American readers:

Even educated readers who appreciate tragedy still secretly expect a “redemptive” ending, an epiphany, a moment of grace. Yet notice how Christian these terms are, with their assumption that suffering—especially that of others—is ennobling or generates beauty and meaning. . . .

[This] idea of [the need for redemption] is truly obscene when applied to fiction about the Holocaust, yet it is the main type of Holocaust literature English readers encounter: stories about brave fighters, altruistic rescuers, and sweet girls who insist that people are good at heart—or worse, easy bromides about the absence of God instead of accusatory truths about the evils of man. . . . Does that mean imagination ought to have no place in writing about atrocity? Not at all. But a work about the Holocaust should necessarily be painful, not inspiring, and should honor the fullness of the loss, not only of individuals but of entire communities. [The Tree of Life] . . . accomplishes all of this. . . .

Prewar Lodz was one-third Jewish, and Rosenfarb brilliantly unfolds a panorama of the city in all its diversity by intertwining her complex characters’ lives. . . . Rosenfarb’s characters are not reducible to representatives of a type or class. They are each embedded, as real people are, in networks of families, lovers, friends, and enemies; . . . inspired by their own commitments and also plagued by private doubts. The integrity of these characters depends, as it does for all of us, on their inherent adulthood, their agency in their own choices.

In the ghetto, none of that disappears; each character remains exactly who he or she was before, just in inhuman circumstances. The Holocaust was not a morality play, except perhaps for its perpetrators. And that’s exactly what makes the ghetto’s horrors real.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Holocaust, Holocaust fiction, Yiddish literature

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy