The Holocaust in the Hebrew Poetry of Sephardim and near Eastern Jews

By Hakak, Lev | Shofar, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Holocaust in the Hebrew Poetry of Sephardim and near Eastern Jews


Hakak, Lev, Shofar


Many studies of the Holocaust focus exclusively on European Jewry. It is essential to mention what happened at the time of the Holocaust to Sephardim and Near Eastern Jews. The fate of Near Eastern Jews would have been similar to the fate of their brothers in Europe had the Germans been successful on the North African front. One of the means by which Sephardim and Near Eastern Jews reacted to the tragedy of their brothers in Europe was through folk poetry and poetry. Near Eastern Jews expressed deep feelings of brotherhood with the Jewish victims of the Holocaust both at the time and after. Poets from Tunisia, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries wrote poetic responses to it at the time. In Israel, Sephardim and Near Eastern Jews published poetry about the Holocaust. On June 1-2, 1941, there was a pogrom against the Jews in Iraq as a result of Nazi incitement and propaganda and nationalistic-religious instigation. Jews were injured and murdered, Jewish women were raped, Jewish property was looted, and Jewish houses were burnt down. Jewish poets of Iraqi origin wrote poetic responses to this pogrom in Hebrew in Iraq and in Israel. In the poems of Sephardim and Near Eastern Jews about the Holocaust, the poets identify completely with the victims ("Us" -- not "them"); the "crime" of the Jews was that they existed. A religious crisis was inevitable for some people, who asked where God was. The yearning and fight for a Jewish state was inevitable.

Many literary works written under the Nazi occupation about the Holocaust at the time of the Holocaust were lost. Most of the Holocaust literature was written after the Second World War. This literature expresses the doom that Jews felt under the Nazi occupation. In the descriptions of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, the cruelty of the Germans and their allies plays a major role. Holocaust literature exposes the indifference of other people and nations, and depicts the traumatic effects of the Holocaust on its survivors as well as the trauma of all the Jewish people.

Many studies of the Holocaust focus exclusively on European Jewry. A study of the Holocaust as it affected Sephardim and Near Eastern Jews is essential to show that Jews had a common fate no matter where they were.(1) The Sephardim in Yugoslavia and Greece suffered as much as the Jews in other European countries (most of them were annihilated); the Bulgarians treated the Jews well and most of the Bulgarian Jews were saved; Turkish Jews suffered many losses, as did the Jews of Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia. There are detailed accounts of the suffering of Sephardim and Near Eastern Jews at the time of Holocaust,(2) and their fate would have been similar to the fate of their brothers in Europe had the Germans been successful on the North African front.

Looking at Hebrew poetry it is noteworthy that Shaul Tchemihovski, Natan Alterman, Avraham Shlonski, S. Shalom, David Shim'oni and Ya'acov Fikhman are some of the Israeli poets who did not experience the Holocaust in Europe as they lived in Israel at the time of World War II, yet they all published poetry about the Holocaust during the War. Of course, some survivors of the Holocaust, such as A. Kobner, Dan Pagis, M. Vizaltir, and I. Ya'oz-Kest, wrote Hebrew poetry about the Holocaust. The Holocaust affected a generation of younger Israeli poets who did not experience the Holocaust in person in Europe. Some of these poets are Hayyim Guri, T. Carmi, Reuven Ben-Yosef, and in the U.S., A. Tseitlin. U.Z. Greenberg's poetry (Rehovot Ha-Nahar) about Jews during the Holocaust has had a large number of readers.

As early as 1933, the Jews in Near Eastern countries began to show their solidarity with the Jews in Germany. They organized verbal and economic protests in an effort to pressure Germany into changing its attitude toward the Jews.(3) In various countries, Jews boycotted German goods and services. Unfortunately, the protests and boycotts failed to have an effect. …

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