Writing after Hitler: The Work of Jakov Lind

By Andrea Hammel; Silke Hassler et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

EDWARD TIMMS AND ANDREA HAMMEL

WE come after, that is the nerve of our condition’, writes George Steiner in the opening essay of his collection Language and Silence. ‘After the unprecedented ruin of humane values and hopes by the political bestiality of our age.’ Few authors exemplify this phenomenon of writing after the bestialities of the Nazi regime more vividly than Jakov Lind. As an author of Jewish origin, born in Vienna in 1927 and forced to flee to the Netherlands at the age of eleven, he experienced the fracturing of his relationship with his mother tongue in a particularly acute form. In his autobiography Counting My Steps, written in English in the late 1960s, Jakov Lind describes the strategy which enabled him to survive in Nazi-occupied Europe. After learning to speak fluent Dutch and acquiring forged identity papers, he found work as a deckhand on a German steamer plying on the Rhine. ‘I am leaving now for Germany and don’t know when I will be back’, he wrote in a daredevil tone to his girlfriend Cilly, another Jewish refugee. ‘Inside the lion’s mouth I would not have to fear the animal’s teeth and claws.’

Lind was sustained through his extraordinary wartime experiences by a passionate desire to write. But from the very beginning he experienced the writer’s task as a problematic enterprise. The German typescript of his first novel, The Diary of Hanan Malinek, written after migrating to Palestine in 1945, reflects on the problems of emotional expression caused by the ruin of humane values:

It is surprising after all that occurred under Hitler that people can
still feel surprised. After Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, is it not a
monstrous self-deception to experience, as in earlier days, emotions
[Empfindungen] which have been blunted and eradicated? Are these
humane and supposedly admirable feelings not unnatural and taste-
less, and is not tragic pathos an outdated and disreputable affair?

The articles collected in this volume reassess the strategies which Lind adopted to express these experiences of dislocation and

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