A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction

By Ruth Franklin | Go to book overview

Conclusion: The Third Generation

“Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing… memory. While Gentiles experience
and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory
only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is
no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste
of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and
remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other
pinpricks—when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still
in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell asleep from stroking his great-
grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be
sure Isaac would feel no pain—that the Jew is able to know why it hurts.
When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?

—Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

“You want your characters to breathe,” the cheerful workshop leader urges, leading a group of twenty or so survivors through a writing exercise designed to help them get started on their memoirs. Begin with specific details, the instructor encourages the would-be autobiographers, and don’t worry about getting down all the facts of what happened. But her students are confused by this advice. What could be more important than what happened? One woman tries to read aloud her account of hiding out in the woods with a dog, but she soon puts her paper aside and tells the tale from memory. A man breaks into

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