W.G. Sebald Plundered Jews’ Stories to Write His Fiction, Then Lied about It

In her recent biography of the late German novelist W.G. Sebald, Carole Angier reveals the extent to which he borrowed—or, perhaps, stole—the life stories of real people, many of them Jewish Holocaust survivors. In one case, he copied in immense detail the life of British Gentile family, but transformed the paterfamilias into a German Jewish refugee. In another, he drew extensively from a survivor’s memoir without attribution. He also lied about the relationship between fact and fiction in his work. Judith Shulevitz, in her review, puts these facts in the context of Sebald’s work:

Displaced Jews haunt some of these narratives; the shades of literary figures—Kafka, Stendhal, Nabokov—materialize in others. And yet Sebald writes like a man typing up case histories, and he accompanies his narratives with something like documentation—photographs of people, facades, notes, newspaper articles, train tickets. These have no captions, and you don’t always see how they relate to the text. But because photographs testify to the onetime existence of things, they give the weight of the real to stories that may or may not be made up. Sebald’s refusal to respect the line between fact and fiction has become commonplace, especially among younger writers. But his adroitly artless synthesis of fable, history, photography, and artifact is still jarring.

Sebald disavowed the term Holocaust writer, and indeed the Holocaust forms just one piece of his vision of modernity as an ongoing disaster and a march toward the total destruction of nature. Yet the Holocaust holds a privileged place in Sebald’s worldview. He told interviewers that it “cast a very long shadow over my life” because he grew up in an Alpine corner of Germany, blissfully unaware of the past (he was born in 1944, just before the end of World War II).

Precisely because of what Sebald sought to convey in his work, Shulevitz cautions against rushing to denounce him for either his borrowings or his lies:

The effect of Sebald’s stories has everything to do with the seamless weave of embroidery and fact. . . . [T]o condemn him for [doing what he did] would be to miss the layers of meaning that complicate moral judgment. Sebald, in writing about Jews, wasn’t writing only about Jews. He was also writing about their absence—both from postwar Germany and, for those Jews who survived the Holocaust, from their own former selves. Nazi Germany forced into exile or murdered half a million German Jews and millions more elsewhere; it stole or burned hundreds of years of European Jewish culture. And it cut survivors off from, well, everything.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: German Jewry, Holocaust, Jews in literature

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror