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Updated Up To 23/01/2018
Volume 14, Issue 2 (June 2016) : 361-375
The Holocaust Survivor in the City
A Literary Disorientation
Noam Gil
Rubric A: Episodes in the History of Ideas
Rubric B: Jewish Issues



By discussing two literary texts by immigrants from Europe in America, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies, a Love Story (1966) and Edgar Hilsenrath’s Fuck America (Bronskys Geständnis, 1980), the essays examines the Holocaust survivors’ gradual subversion of pre-determined national, religious, and communal identities. In each of the texts, the urban environment has a double and seemingly contradictory effect on the survivors’ lives: it is an obstacle but also an opportunity. The multiplying sounds, languages, faces, and buildings seem at first to be a threat to the protagonists’ existence but later on provide the means for their radical liberation. As an eternal outsider, the survivor’s past experience correlates and is constantly juxtaposed to his current urban life. This juxtaposition creates a desire for anonymity, as an immediate reaction to the identity which was foisted upon each protagonist during the war in Europe.

Singer’s Herman Broder and Hilsenrath’s Jakob Bronsky are literary models that offer, in their grim life stories, a new set of human relationships, personal behavioral characteristics, and private day to day procedures that correlate to the deviant city’s schizoid features. My discussion of the novels relies on Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. De Certeau’s observations regarding the ordinary mundane procedures that constitute the urban “pedestrian” text illuminate the way in which the protagonists’ stories incorporate, rather than ignore or resolve, their contradictory, fragmentary, and unsystematic components.

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