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Published in sixteen languages and winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt, Andre Schwarz Bart s The Last of the Just is considered by many the single greatest novel of the HolocaustOn March in the old Anglican city of York, the Jews of the city were brutally massacred by their townsmen As legend has it, God blessed the only survivor of this medieval pogrom, Rabbi Yom Tov Levy, as one of the Lamed Vov, the thirty six Just Men of Jewish tradition, a blessing which extended to one Levy of each succeeding generation This terrifying and remarkable legacy is traced over eight centuries, from the Spanish Inquisition, to expulsions from England, France, Portugal, Germany, and Russia, and to the small Polish village of Zemyock, where the Levys settle for two centuries in relative peace It is in the twentieth century that Ernie Levy emerges, The Last of the Just, in s Germany, as Hitler s sinister star is on the rise and the agonies of Auschwitz loom on the horizon This classic work, long unavailable in a trade edition, is one of those few novels that, once read, is never forgotten A great book that I must re read. 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 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 PresenceTractate Sanhedrin 97b Tractate Sukkah 45bRivers 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 griefsfrom The Last of the Just, by Andre Schwarz BartScattered 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 theprofound 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 humanistically rich 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 manythan 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 THE LAST OF THE JUST, Andre Schwarz Bart s novel of remembranceAs an under grad at the University of Alabama, I often spent my time between classes at a college bookstore, Malone s, or at The Alabama Bookstore Malone s was ultimately gobbled up by their competition However both stores offered shelves of literature that frequently caught my eye and my meager funds.The Last of the Just by Andr Schwarz Bart was one of the many books I bought during my college days I skipped lunch that day to THE LAST OF THE JUST, Andre Schwarz Bart s novel of remembranceAs an under grad at the University of Alabama, I often spent my time between classes at a college bookstore, Malone s, or at The Alabama Bookstore Malone s was ultimately gobbled up by their competition However both stores offered shelves of literature that frequently caught my eye and my meager funds.The Last of the Just by Andr Schwarz Bart was one of the many books I bought during my college days I skipped lunch that day to buy it I was skinny then, too, had hair, muscles, and the world on a string I still have my original paperback copy, boxed away, but readily obtainable This is a book I remember as clearly today as when I first read it, too many years ago.It was a visit to my next door neighbor last night that prompted me to review it today As I have mentioned before, my neighbor is one of my former psychology professors We raid one another s bookshelves on a regular basis.Old Uncle Howard, as he calls himself to me, is something of a father figure And I have officially been made a member of the Miller family Howard is Jewish, but considers himself so culturally, not spiritually, as he will tell you in a heartbeat Not since nine, have I believed How can you know, I asked him He grunted Occam s Razor, remember your history and systems of psychology course But there had to be some initial causation, wouldn t you say, I retorted From a standpoint of intellectual honesty, the only thing we can say within reason is, I don t know Grunt Grrrmph The Millers lost a son to cancer a year or so before I became their neighbor Sometimes I think I may have become adopted Of late, when I visit, I have dined with them My place is set between them, Old Uncle Howard at the head of the table to my right, his wife to the left.Interestingly, although claiming to be a non believer, Howard says Kaddish for his son each year He has shown me his yarmulke, his brother s and his father s, which he keeps carefully packed away His Hebrew flows as a song During Hanukkah, the Menorah was in view and Howard bought a Hanukkah table cloth.It was around that time I borrowed The Complete Mausby Art Spiegelman from him I had never read it, though I was familiar with it I was stunned, as I previously indicated in my review of it.When I returned Maus to Uncle Howard, we discussed it, as we always do about our reading I mentioned that Art Spiegelman had published MetaMaus A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus Howard s response was two eyebrows archly raised, punctuated by an enthusiastic and curious Really His wife always shares in our talks She is as voracious a reader as many of us are.A few days later when I popped over to check on them, Margaret said, I have to show you something She excitedly opened a box fromIt was MetaMaus A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus I saw the look on Howard s face when you were telling him about it She s very observant smileSo yesterday, I ambled over to take them a whopping big bowl of hopping john, collards, and southern cornbread that means no sugar in the bread, thank you very much Sugar in cornbread is an abomination You want sugar, eat cake.Howard and I were chatting I never saw your response when you opened MetaMaus A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus What did you think Now, that s a BOOK His face was almost luminous as he answered I was wandering Do you think there is a way to get Art Spiegelman to sign this I told him I was sure there might be some way I suggested a personal letter to the publisher who would forward it to Spiegelman through his editor or agent Good A letter I can write I should tell him about my grandparents in Auschwitz You ve never told me Oh, the subject just never came up before Uh huh Sometimes I wonder that I was ever born They were two of the lucky ones I could have been somebody else or nothing at all And that led me to ask him if he had ever read The Last of the Just No Tell me about it So, I told him Today, I write to tell you about it.From Wiki Mystical Hasidic Judaism as well as other segments of Judaism believe that there is the Jewish tradition of 36 righteous people whose role in life is to justify the purpose of humankind in the eyes of God Tradition holds that their identities are unknown to each other and that, if one of them comes to a realization of their true purpose then they may die and their role is immediately assumed by another person The Lamed Vav Tzaddikim are also called the Nistarim concealed ones In our folk tales, they emerge from their self imposed concealment and, by the mystic powers, which they possess, they succeed in averting the threatened disasters of a people persecuted by the enemies that surround them They return to their anonymity as soon as their task is accomplished, concealing themselves once again in a Jewish community wherein they are relatively unknown The lamed vavniks, scattered as they are throughout the Diaspora, have no acquaintance with one another On very rare occasions, one of them is discovered by accident, in which case the secret of their identity must not be disclosed The lamed vavniks do not themselves know that they are ones of the 36 In fact, tradition has it that should a person claim to be one of the 36, that is proof positive that they are certainly not one Since the 36 are each exemplars of anavah, humility , having such a virtue would preclude against one s self proclamation of being among the special righteous The 36 are simply too humble to believe that they are one of the 36 1 , 1 Rabbi Zwerin s Sermon Kol Nidre, The 36 Who are theyThe Rebbe s sermon is a fascinating read, its self.Andr Schwarz Bart s life is something to ponder about as much as his novel, The Last of the Just Born May 28, 1928, Metz, Moselle, Schwarz Bart was a Frenchman of Polish Jewish origins His parents moved to France in 1924.In 1941, Schwarz Bart s parents were seized by the Nazis and transported to Auschwitz Schwarz Bart escaped the round up and joined the French Resistance, still a teenager His parents died at Auschwitz His war time experiences and the deaths of his parents resulted in Le Dernier des Justes published in France in 1959, taking the Prix de Grancourt in the same year It appeared in English, translated by Stephen Becker, as The Last of the Just published by Atheneum in 1960.Schwarz Bart uses the realm of the Lamed Vav Tzaddikim to tell the story of the Levy family beginning in 1105 England, with the earliest known member of the family to be one of the thirty six righteous What follows is a horror story of hate, inquisitions, intolerance, murder, and pogroms, as we watch each generation assume the burden of responsibility and guilt for the evils of humanity, to justify the existence of life.We end with Ernie, a teen aged boy, who could pass for a gentile but enters the maelstrom of the holocaust He is the last of his line How can one man absorb the burden of the final solution to justify the existence of humanity This book remains as alive for me today as when I first read it almost forty years orago And I ve read it since It still haunts me.In 1991, Michael Dorris, writing for the LA Times, said, Every page demands to know Why How could this abomination have happened Whether Jewish or Gentile, we are reminded how easily torn is the precious fabric of civilization, and how destructive are the consequences of dumb hatred whether a society s henchmen are permitted to beat an Ernie Levy because he s Jewish, or because he s black or gay or Hispanic or homeless The novel endures precisely because it forces us to empathize, and thus to remember was once an international sensation seems to have faded into obscurity A first edition of the first American edition can be picked up for a song I think I ll buy one no, two One for me and one for Uncle Howard.Andre Schwarze Bart died of complications following heart surgery on September 30, 2006, Pointe Pitre, Guadeloupe I will remember him Should you read this wonderful book, so will you May there be abundant peacefrom Heavenand good lifefor us and for all Israel and let s say to it, Amen From the Mourner s Kaddish How common is a phase of Shoah exploration I found it rather odd and off outting when I fell into a period in my early 20s, I was nearly obsessed and read constantly from scholarly analyses, memoirs and novels I found the subject nearly untenable for most people in Southern Indiana why would you want to read about that Since then I have encountered a half dozen kindred souls who likewise went inexplicably overboard on this darkest of subjects.I read this novel in 1994 and was ripped as if by How common is a phase of Shoah exploration I found it rather odd and off outting when I fell into a period in my early 20s, I was nearly obsessed and read constantly from scholarly analyses, memoirs and novels I found the subject nearly untenable for most people in Southern Indiana why would you want to read about that Since then I have encountered a half dozen kindred souls who likewise went inexplicably overboard on this darkest of subjects.I read this novel in 1994 and was ripped as if by the throat and throttled violently