How the Holocaust Brought a Great Yiddish Writer to Forsake Poetry for Epic Prose

Little known to the English-speaking world, Chava Rosenfarb (1923–2011) is generally considered in Yiddish literary circles to be one of the greatest post-World War II writers in that language. Born in Poland, Rosenfarb endured the war in the Łódź Ghetto, Auschwitz, and other concentration camps. Thereafter she settled in Canada, where she wrote most of her major works. Reviewing a collection of her nonfiction that recently appeared in English, Marc Caplan writes:

Rosenfarb . . . earned her stellar reputation for her epic novels, in the style of Tolstoy, and her novellas, mostly psychological tales, in the style of Chekhov. [But] she began her career as a poet, with the volume The Ballad of Yesterday’s Forest (1949).

In the first essay of the collection, Rosenfarb writes: “The brutal reality of the ghetto demanded the dry precision of unadorned words. Not that I wanted to ban the poet within me; on the contrary, I wanted her to stand by me, but I wanted her to creep with me through the maze of ghetto streets, through the muck of human baseness, as low to the ground as possible.”

“Liberation,” Rosenfarb wrote in a diary that she kept in a displaced-persons camp, “wears a prosaic face.” . . . Her vision in those days, nearly identical to her developed fictional works, was to weave together the raw terror of the Holocaust with an artistic perspective to create a panoramic picture of what occurred and to whom, including both the fate of the victims and the vitality of Yiddish culture that had flowered until the war.

For this reason, one should consider these essays as an extension or “appendix” to Rosenfarb’s masterworks in fiction. But as an extension, the essays also offer insight into her grand novels and penetrating novellas. Her immense literary legacy grew out of the first poems of her youth, which were literally carved into the walls of the ghetto. Those poems are the seeds from which her mature work flowered. As a result, one could consider her prose as “poetry by other means.”

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More about: Holocaust, Holocaust survivors, Poetry, Yiddish literature

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship