Author probes the legacy of the Holocaust in latest book – Jewish Herald-Voice

Posted By on July 1, 2021

In Yishai Sarids novel, The Memory Monster (Restless Books), the books unnamed narrator is an Israeli Holocaust scholar who leads high school heritage trips to Poland. His role involves conveying the heroism and the suffering of the Polish Jewish community during the Holocaust to young Israelis.

The narrator works from a script, a standard memorization that all guides use. But increasingly, he is unable to stop stepping over the line. His job becomes an obsession. His detailed editorializing and shocking details begin to repel and frighten the groups he is supposed to enlighten. As the novel progresses, the narrator begins to lose control of his emotions and mental equilibrium, slipping into the clutches of the memory monster.

Yishai Sarid is the son of Yossi Sarid. His dad was chairman of the left-wing Meretz party. Yishai served as an IDF intelligence officer and later as an assistant district attorney in Tel Aviv prosecuting criminal cases. The Memory Monster, his fifth novel, stirred up controversy because it examines the various healthy and unhealthy ways Israelis preserve memory of the Shoah.

One time in Krakow, the narrator encounters a group of Israeli Hasidim, who are visiting the grave of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, a disciple of Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezritch, and a colleague of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. A Hasid explains that they journey to the rabbis grave to ask for forgiveness, sing, dance and eat.

Dont you visit the camps at all? asks the narrator.

No. What for? answers the Hasid. What do we have to look for in those evil places? We live our lives seeking sacredness and steering clear of filth.

In contrast, Israeli high school students, who make up the bulk of the narrators audience, take away a different perspective.

What has this trip taught you, the narrator asks a group of students on the last night of their visit to Poland. The students answer:

To never forget.

To be strong Jews.

To be moral but strong.

Then, one boy responds, I think that in order to survive, we need to be a little bit Nazi, too.

The narrator remarks to himself that the young man is only saying what adults say among themselves. The narrator pushes back, What do you mean?

That we have to be able to kill mercilessly. We dont stand a chance if were too soft. Sometimes, theres no choice but to hurt civilians, too. Its hard to distinguish civilians from terrorists . This is, after all, a war of survival. Its us or them. We wont let this happen to us again.

Lets ask a hard question:

You are a Polish mother or father living on a small farm in 1942. One evening theres a knock at the door. Its a stranger, a young Jewish boy. He tells you that his family and all the Jews of the village have been rounded up and placed on a train to an unknown destination. He asks for something to eat.

Theres a Nazi law in Poland. Anyone knowingly helping Jews by providing them shelter and/or supplying them with food is subject to the death penalty. That includes the rescuers family.

What would you do? Would you be too afraid to take the risk?

Thats the only question we can ask ourselves as human beings, states the narrator.

This is a novel that poses a number of hard questions to readers. It also essentially asks how does one honor the memory of the Shoah without becoming consumed by it?

In his novels, Sarid is concerned about the issues that divide human beings from each other. As an Israeli, he understands the determination to protect the land from the enmity of others. At the same time, he also understands the possibility of a larger sense of humanity.

This is the best novel Ive read this year.

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Author probes the legacy of the Holocaust in latest book - Jewish Herald-Voice

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