Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism, and the Problem of English

Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism, and the Problem of English

Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism, and the Problem of English

Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism, and the Problem of English

Excerpt

Everything Is All Right, or The Problem of
English Writing on the Holocaust

The worldwide spread of English is remarkable. There has been nothing like
it in history. Spanish and French, Arabic and Turkish, Latin and Greek have
served in their turn as international languages, in the wake of the mission
station, the trading post or the garrison. But none has come near to rivaling
English. — The Economist, 1986

Besides, who, in what corner of the world, cannot string together a few words
of English? — Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved

“The Jewish Council of Warsaw,” writes Emmanuel Ringelblum, “shows the least interest in its people. The best of the councils is Radom, which often provides Jews in the forced-labor gangs with bread, medicine and so forth. But in Warsaw there are sick Jews working who have not been relieved. And Zabludowski says that everything is all right.” Historian and director of the Oneg Shabbes underground archive in Warsaw, Ringelblum refers here to the difficult situation in Warsaw in October 1940 and to how indifferent those in power – Jews as well as Germans - were to it. After living under German occupation for a year, the Jewish councils were clearly under duress. And things were to get worse. In mid-November 1940, a month after Ringelblum’s stinging reproach, Warsaw’s Jews were incarcerated in a ghetto, virtually sealed off from the rest of the world behind an eleven-foothigh wall. Aware of the demands on the councils even at the earlier stage, Ringelblum nevertheless takes them to task because, as the comparison to Radom makes clear, it was possible to do better.

What especially irks Ringelblum is that those who commanded authority did not even acknowledge that something was wrong: “And Zabludowski says that everything is all right.” Benjamin Zabludowski was a member of Warsaw’s Jewish Community Council before the occupation and continued to serve in that capacity. He was on close terms with the head of the council . . .

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