Academic journal article Shofar

The Child as Collective Subconscious: The Shoah in David Grossman's 'Ayen Erekh: 'Ahavah' and Yehudit Katzir's "Schlaffstunde"

Academic journal article Shofar

The Child as Collective Subconscious: The Shoah in David Grossman's 'Ayen Erekh: 'Ahavah' and Yehudit Katzir's "Schlaffstunde"

Article excerpt

The past three decades have witnessed a proliferation of treatments of the Shoah by Israeli writers born after the event who explore the impact the Holocaust has had on their society. In two such works, "Momik," the opening section of David Grossman's novel, See Under: "Love" (1986), and a short story by Yehudit Katzir, "Schlaffstunde" that appeared in her collection Closing the Sea (1989), the authors choose to do so through the prism of child fantasies about the Land of Over There. In each work, but to varying degrees based on distance from the event, the child protagonists seek to come to terms with the terrors that so visibly weigh on the minds and hearts of the primary adult figures in their lives. Beyond any autobiographical relevance for authors growing up in the 60s and 70s, these depictions may also serve as a figure for contemporaneous Israeli society, when discussion of the Holocaust was largely suppressed and its legacy perceived as a contradiction of the heroic myth so inextricably bound up with the rise of the State. In these works, use of the child voice may thus be connected with the search for alternative modes counter to the monolithic claims of the Zionist epic narrative that have served to silence the small, individual voice.

"...there is nothing like silence to trigger creativity. Every child needs explanations about the world about him, but a child who grows up [in the home of Holocaust survivors] feels that questions are undesirable. So he starts supplying his own answers, and begins to exercise his imagination from a very early age."

- Savyon Liebrecht, "The Influence of the Holocaust on My Work"

The 1980s marked the beginning of the proliferation of fiction touching on the Holocaust and an increased willingness by authors to engage the event in public and literary discourse. Two works from that period, David Grossman's novel `Ayen erekh: `ahavah' (See Under: "Love") and Yehudit Katzir's short story "Schlaffstunde," represented attempts by two younger Israeli writers with no direct experience of the Shoah to explore its impact on Israeli society. In each, the author presents a child's imaginings of the unspoken horrors from "Over There" that have traumatized his family. Both stories highlight the centrality of the Holocaust in formation of the young psyche, but they do so in divergent ways that reflect differences in the generation and gender of the protagonists, and perhaps the authors as well. Grossman, born in 1954, explores the trauma from the much more immediate perspective of the second generation -- and the Holocaust is the central event that shapes the entire novel and the development of the characters. In contrast, Katzir, born in 1963, presents the Shoah as a backdrop, reflecting the setting of the narrative at greater distance in time from the event, and the differing dynamics at play in the third generation to the Holocaust.

In this article, I will be analyzing both these works as examples of a particular historical moment when such portrayals became legitimate. In doing so, I will examine the use of children's perspectives in both narratives; in particular, I will be focusing on the conflation of adult and children's voices as an innovative narrative technique. On a larger level, I will argue that the child's voice represents subconscious societal processing of the Holocaust and that the filtering of depictions of the Holocaust through the naïve perceptions of children may be seen as a metaphor for Israeli society as a whole prior to the 1980s, when consideration of the Shoah was largely deferred or suppressed.

It is commonly assumed that during the first years of the State Israeli writers of fiction did not engage the Shoah in their works. While this view has come to be challenged and earlier treatments most certainly exist, nothing can compare to the outpouring of literature taking up this theme in the last thirty years. During the first nearly forty years of statehood, the confrontation with the meaning of the Holocaust was in the main deferred. …

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