PDF The Last of the Just: PDF

by André Schwarz-Bart

“ It is said that at all times there are 36 special people in the world, and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end. The two Hebrew letters for 36 are the lamed, which is 30, and the vav, which is six. Therefore, these 36 are referred to as the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim. This widely-held belief, this most unusual Jewish concept is based on a Talmudic statement to the effect that in every generation 36 righteous "greet the Shechinah," the Divine Presence (Tractate Sanhedrin 97b; Tractate Sukkah 45b).

“Rivers of blood have flowed, columns of smoke have obscured the sky, but surviving all these dooms, the tradition has remained inviolate down to our own time. According to it, the world reposes upon thirty-six Just Men, the Lamed-Vov, indistinguishable from simple mortals; often they are unaware of their station. But if just one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed-Vov are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs.” — from The Last of the Just, by Andre Schwarz-Bart

Scattered throughout the world, their identity is unknown, even to each other. If, unlikely as it may be, one of them is ‘discovered’ by accident, the secret of their identity must not be disclosed. The lamed-vavniks do not themselves know that they are one of the 36. In fact, if a person claimed to be one of the 36, that is proof that he or she is certainly not one, since the 36 are each great exemplars of anavah, (“humility”) and, as such, are simply too humble to believe that they are special.

Like much of the more profound tenets of Jewish mythology, the “meaning” of this story is not in its content, but in what effect belief in its truth would have on the practice of one’s life. What would it mean to live in this world? It would mean that, not only must I treat every passing human being as a potential cornerstone of the world’s continued existence,but that I must recognise and cherish the humble, those who seem most attuned to the endless grief and suffering of our species. To query whether such people actually exist is to miss the point, as it would be to query whether Shabbat has any true, inherent “specialness”, other than that we can give to it through our conscious, ritualistic efforts to do so. Judaism is at its most powerful when it is about ways of Being in the World, rather than creed and dogma, which is why it is perfectly possible to be both an atheist and a Jew.

So, how does this concept, and the way it is expressed in this novel, enrich or illuminate our understanding or “experience” of the Shoah? I think that one answer to this question is to consider the role of the Author as inhabiting, in some way, the position of such a Lamed-Vav. For is it not possible to view Schwarz-Bart, and many other of his fellow Survivor-writers, as such vessels for this grief, through which it pours, is channelled, funnelled into ink and forced through the sharp nib of a pen? I have studied this period for almost 20 years, including writing a Master’s Thesis on some of the worst aspects of Nazi Brutality, and yet the ending of this Novel had me in tears, in a way very little else had done. Why?

To write a Novel of the Shoah is to take on immeasurable sorrow, to put pen to page and narrate such events, to summon them up from the past and place them, raw and bloodied, in the Reader’s mind, it is a task of unenviable difficulty. And when your parents were murdered in Auschwitz?When you, as a young teenager, fought in the French Resistance, despite speaking only Yiddish and a slight, smattering of French?How much harder must the task be then? How much greater must the honour be we accord those capable of such action? There are many novels that deal with this period, and with these events, but very few have any true power, very few do little but simplify, rationalise, dramatize, turn the indescribable into recognisable tropes, and thereby diminish the “truth” of these events. Hollywood narratives have no place in the Death Camps.

There are many reasons for reading this novel: it is wonderfully well written, it is endlessly fascinating; it is historically and humanisticallyrich; its structural and thematic daring is, at times, breathtaking; and it is filled with people whose tales will move you. However, the most important reason remains, for me, that to do so is to perform a ritual, to say a set of magic words which re-juvenate, re-incarnate, re-member the sorrows of Jewish (which is a synonym of “human”, of course) history, and which alters the Reader’s present by its presence. It is also to acknowledge that “specialness” of those who are prepared to create such a text, and to allow our lives to flood over with it. There may be many more than 36, or there may be less, there may also be a piece of each 36 shattered throughout us all, but I know there are those in this world whose existence has a power which ripples wider than they know, and they should be cherished. They may not create art, but if they do, such art will be as close to the Sacred as an atheist like me can get.

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Book Title
Book Author
PublisherOverlook Books
GanreWorld War II
Release date 01.02.2000
Pages count374
eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
File size5.7 Mb
Book rating4.25 (598 votes)
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