Coming Home

 

It’s two o’clock in the morning as the ‘Fasten Seat-Belts’ sign comes on in the plane bringing us back to Tel Aviv. We anxiously scan the darkness outside for the first signs of the city that never sleeps.

And suddenly, there it is. The strings of lights that tell us that Tel Aviv and its surroundings are alive and kicking. The lights are everywhere, shining like strings of jewels, guiding us to our destination.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not one of my favourite people, said recently that until the Jews came back to live in this part of the world once more, about one hundred years ago, the region was desolate. I don’t know how much truth there is in that statement but there can be no doubt that the thriving, bustling, energized city of Tel-Aviv did not exist, and the millions of Jews who have made Israel their home have brought progress, modernity and vitality to what was formerly a neglected backwater of the Turkish Empire. And before that, too, for thousands of years, Jews lived here, although not in sufficient quantities to create a viable political entity of their own.

So that every time I return to my country, Israel, I experience a certain uplifting feeling, knowing that, unlike previous generations of Jews, my generation is privileged to have a country that is our own, with all the attendant difficulties as well as all the achievements – and there are plenty of both. And that is something to treasure.

After having been away from home for over a month, I seem to have forgotten how to cope with the vagaries of the local climate. How could I have forgotten that in Jerusalem, which sits at 400 feet above sea level, the mornings are cool, no matter how hot the forecast day-time temperature? I have just come back from a European country, France, that is engaged in the descent into winter, where the day starts off cold and remains cold throughout. I also spent a few days in Valletta, Malta, which starts off hot and remains thus throughout the day and night. There can be no doubt that when it comes to climate, Jerusalem is unique.

Of course, being reunited with friends and family is the high point of coming home, and it is almost worthwhile going away in order to appreciate the happy reunion with our loved ones. I no longer seem to be bothered by the lack of sleep that made our first day one that extended over forty-eight hours, and the necessity of implementing the myriad of mundane tasks that awaited us – unpacking, attending to laundry, going shopping, and doing cooking – so that sleep was simply not an option.

But who cares about such trivialities. Hallelujah, we’re home!

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‘Judas’ by Amos Oz

(Published (in Hebrew) by Keter Books)

Amos Oz, the doyen of Hebrew writers, was not awarded the prestigious International Man Booker literary prize, which went instead to David Grossman’s book, ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’ (see my review of it in my blog post for 3 August). Having read both books in the original Hebrew, I am unable to give an opinion as to the quality of the translation of either, but as far as I can tell Oz’s book is a more enjoyable read.

The story concerns the three-month period in the winter of 1959 spent by drop-out student, Shmuel Ash, in a house in Jerusalem, where he is employed to serve as a debating counterpart to an elderly and disabled intellectual. Oz’s descriptions of the exigencies of the Jerusalem winter, the interior of the strange house and the characters of its even stranger inhabitants seem somehow to ring true. As someone who has lived in Jerusalem for fifty years, this reader found the characters described in the book, ranging from Shmuel Ash’s professor at the university, Gustav Eisenschloss, the old man whom Shmuel is employed to entertain, Gershom Wald, and his enigmatic but seductive daughter-in-law, Atalya, the widow of his son who was killed in Israel’s War of Independence, convincing and even vaguely familiar.

A sense of menace hangs over the events – or rather non-events – recounted in the book, ranging from the political disagreement in the period prior to the foundation of the state of Israel between Atalya’s late father and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, on the one hand, to Shmuel Ash’s attempts to write an academic analysis of the attitude of the Jews to Jesus through the ages, on the other. Through their disagreement, Amos Oz manages to present the argument both for and against the establishment of the Jewish state with rare conviction. The concept of betrayal, of the betrayer as ‘Judas,’ and the Judas of the gospels as the representative of the Jews who rejected Jesus and Christianity, also runs through the book as a constant leitmotif. Over and above the intellectual parrying of the various characters hangs Shmuel’s attraction for he unattainable Atalya, and the developing relationship – or rather non-relationship – betwee n them.

The frequent repetition of the actions that constitute Shmuel’s daily routine of ablutions, regular haunts and eating habits tends to become somewhat tedious after a while. The incidental chapter that purports to give Judas’s eye-witness account of the crucifixion of Jesus and the events leading up to it seems to me to be superfluous and out of place, even though it does provide some kind of explanation for what happened and why. Even so, the detailed and gory account jars on the reader’s sensibilities and interrupts the flow of the narrative that concerns the characters in the story, and Jerusalem in the period before the Six Day War.

In this book Amos Oz paints a picture of a time and place that are no more, and of characters that belong to that time and place, and are possibly no longer to be found in the Israel that emerged in the wake of the Six-Day War and all that it entailed. I have a sneaking feeling that Oz regards the bumbling, fumbling hero, Shmuel Ash, as something of an alter ego, which in my view couldn’t be further from the truth. Nonetheless, for someone like me, who is not averse to a bit of nostalgia, the book is entertaining, enlightening and enjoyable.

Happy Days

Although we’re coming to the end of our vacation in France we have not been cut off from happenings in the rest of the world, specifically Israel and England.

Summer in Israel is always hot and this year it seems to have been hotter than usual, at least according to the level of complaints emanating from that corner of the Middle East. But whether this is due to global warming or greater sensitivity on the part of the local population it’s difficult to say. Two things are clear – the frequency of terrorist attacks seems to have fallen, and the political hostility between the various parties and factions is as intense as ever, with no apparent solution in sight. So nothing new there.

As for my other homeland, England, matters have become far more emotional and malevolent ever since the egregious Brexit referendum last year. Those who oppose it give no quarter in deriding, criticizing and otherwise castigating those political leaders involved in negotiating and presumably eventually executing the policy. The criticisms range from vicious caricatures of their personal characteristics to name-calling and total rejection of their intellectual and emotional suitability for their task.

One thing is clear, the hypocrisy of politicians has never been revealed in all its unsavoury clarity as has been the case with the Conservative party. Several of its leading members, including the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, advocated remaining in the European Union prior to the referendum but, once the result in favour of leaving became clear, they promptly undertook to implement a policy diametrically opposed to what they had originally advocated. We all knew that politicians weren’t to be trusted, but this is just too blatant to be simply papered over or ignored.

The Labour party is no better than the Conservatives, having consistently wavered between opposing and supporting some kind of arrangement to leave the EU. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, first opposed the idea, even penalizing party members who disagreed with him, and subsequently coming round to some kind of cack-handed support for a ‘soft Brexit,’ whatever that may mean.

For observers outside the country, England seems to be going to the dogs, with the decline in the exchange rate of the pound against all other currencies, the rise in anti-Semitic and racist incidents, wholesale departures of professionals who are non-nationals and a general decline in the quality of life. But when we spent a week in London earlier this year everything seemed pretty much as usual, with charming baristas, waiters and shop-assistants hailing from all the corners of the world, and life continuing pretty much as usual. I’ve quoted Samuel Johnson’s dictum before about he who tires of London having tired of life, and it’s as true today as ever.

Naturally, people are worried about what lies ahead, but the fact of the matter is that nobody knows. The politicians charged with conducting the negotiations are portrayed by anti-Brexiters as inept, but the process of negotiating is itself inevitably clouded in secrecy. Statements issued by the representatives of the EU are disparaging about statements made by the British negotiators, but it’s difficult to tell whether this is just part and parcel of the process or genuine expressions of opinion. At least on the subject of reciprocal health insurance between the EU and Britain agreement has been reached that enables existing coverage to be maintained, which doubtless comes as a great relief to British nationals residing in the countries of the EU, as well as to European nationals living in the UK.

There are still a great many hurdles to be overcome in the negotiation process, chief among them trade agreements, which are traditionally complex and require lengthy talks before any kind of conclusion can be reached. Whether the politicians representing England can achieve the desired outcome remains to be seen, but for the moment they seem to be intent on fulfilling the mission which they have taken upon themselves to achieve, even if this was not what they originally wanted in their heart of hearts. But which politician ever followed the dictates of his or her heart?

All politicians everywhere are steadfast in seeking to remain in power, and for all those concerned in this particular instance that seems to be the salient point.

A Bilingual Literary Festival

In the picturesque village of Charroux in Central France I was able to attend a literary festival held in French and English. The three-day event was crowded with interesting talks, some in French but most in English, given by a wide range of writers. I wasn’t able to attend all of them, or even most of them, but the few authors whose presentations I attended were undoubtedly accomplished and interesting speakers. The festival organisers had also arranged for the authors’ books to be on sale, and book signings were also held.

The village of Charroux is situated on a rather steep hillside. Some of the sessions were held in a communal building situated on the main street, near the historic remains of an abbey, while other talks were given at a building further up the hill, near the town hall. This is also where the festival bookshop was situated. Inevitably, this entailed rather a lot of traipsing up the hill and down the hill, to the general delight of all concerned, especially the authors who were assigned specific times for their book-signings.

One of the talks I attended was given by Andrew Lownie, the author of a book entitled ‘Stalin’s Englishman; the Lives of Guy Burgess.’ Lownie gave a fluent presentation, replete with photographs, recounting the trajectory of Burgess’ life and times. In the 1950s and subsequently, when the news of Burgess’ treason and defection became public, it became clear that members of England’s privileged upper class — men who had attended public school and Oxbridge universities — were involved, and Andrew Lownie has endeavoured to provide some explanation for their motivation in betraying their country. Like the other members of the ‘Cambridge Five,’ Burgess was well-connected to England’s governing elite, with influential friends in MI5, MI6, the Foreign Office and the BBC. This is without a doubt a fascinating story and I felt impelled to buy the book and have it signed by the author.

Another fascinating talk was given by Mike Welham, who has written several books exposing conspiracies and underhand activities, whether implemented by governments or big business. In order to avoid libel charges he presents his books as novels, changing names of individuals and places, but essentially using factual information and research as the basis for his stories.

At the end of Mr. Welham’s talk he presented all those who had attended with a free copy of his latest book, ‘Death of a Scientist; A Time for War, A Time to Die, A Time for Justice,’ which also promises to be an interesting read.

The intrepid organisers of the festival, Chris and Kate, were aided and abetted by a host of helpers and/or volunteers, who manned refreshments stalls and the bookshop as well as helping with technical matters. The local bed-and-breakfast establishments, as well as the various bars and bistros, evidently benefited from the influx of literature-loving individuals, whether English or French, and provided a warm welcome to the visitors. At lunchtime on the day we were there, the Irish bistro-cum-bar had run out of fish, salad, and also eventually steak (we managed to order two of the last ones left). But this did not seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, and we overheard a lively discussion between the English waitress and some other customers as to how they would like their eggs and chips.

The weather was warm, the sun shone gently, and throughout the time I was there it felt good to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who, like me, had come from various parts of France to indulge in our passion for books.

Vive la Musique!

Spending  part of the summer in central France has constituted our annual vacation for several years now. We enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, the beautiful scenery, and the cooler weather. If there are any musical events we are happy to attend them, but they are not the main reason for our choice of location.

This year, however, there has been more music on offer in the Limousin region than ever before, although some of it goes beyond our definition of music in the traditional and perhaps somewhat narrow sense.

Every summer several members of the Paris Symphony Orchestra spend time in the region, from which some of them originate, and offer concerts to the public at large. The program of the one we attended in the nearby mediaeval church situated at Chambon sur Voueize consisted of instrumental works by Mozart and Vivaldi as well as two pieces for soprano by Handel and Caccini. The crystalline voice of the talented young soprano, Andrea Constantin, was enhanced by the excellent acoustics of the church, with its high, vaulted ceiling. The packed audience gave each piece an enthusiastic reception, applauding between the movements of Mozart’s clarinet concerto as well as at the end of each piece.

At one point the cellist who leads the ensemble, which consists primarily of several members of the orchestra’s string section, announced that they would be playing a surprise item, and went on to say that we would be hearing three pieces by Giora Feidman. The name is familiar to many Israelis as that of the man who has made klezmer (traditional Eastern European Jewish) music popular. Sure enough, the clarinettist who had starred in the Mozart concerto returned to the stage and proceeded to get the audience tapping its feet to the rhythmic and sometimes emotional music. It felt slightly strange to hear klezmer music in a church, but the audience gave it a decidedly enthusiastic reception and we certainly enjoyed it.

A few days later the same ensemble was due to give a concert of chamber music gems in the Orangerie of the nearby Boussac chateau. The structure itself was adorned with the stuffed heads of the various animals that the master of the chateau must have once hunted, as well as with some beautiful tapestries, which are produced locally.

The programme turned out to be a selection of individual movements from quartets and quintets by Borodin, Boccherini, Dvorak and Haydn, ending with the first movement of Schubert’s sublime quintet in C major. To hear it is to share the ecstasy and agony of Schubert’s short life, but to hear just one movement without the continuation is tantamount to being allowed to see the Promised Land from the mountain-top but not to enter into it. Still, it was an enjoyable evening, and we appreciated being able to partake of these precious gems in that very special environment.

In recent years an enterprising resident of a nearby village, with the support of the regional administration, has organised an annual music festival focusing on contemporary and world music of various kinds. Since one such concert was given in the church that is opposite our house I decided to venture forth and risk my sanity by attending a concert of experimental music for string quartet. To my surprise, the little church, which usually stands empty, was packed full with enthusiasts for this kind of music. The first piece consisted of the cellist playing some kind of music on the stage, while the three other instruments played occasional, seemingly random, notes off-stage. My first impression was of cats mating, but I confess to taking a jaundiced view of such music, and I wondered how any of them knew what to play and when since there was no contact between them.

For the second piece, however, all four musicians were on stage, and the piece (whose composer’s name I did not catch) consisted of their playing a somewhat monotonous tune by plucking the strings of their instruments. There was a melodic element, and after a while the monotony had a kind of hypnotic effect, which even found its way into my hardened heart. In a later piece, an elegiac melody for strings called ‘For Elise,’ the tender mood was shattered by the church bells striking the hour (four o’clock). When the piece ended the cellist said ‘I want to play it again,’ which they promptly did, to great applause. The concert ended with a piece by an American composer called Golden who hails from Alabama, and one could definitely detect elements of southern rhythms and negro spirituals in among the various sounds produced by the instruments.

The concert ended before the church bells could cause any more disturbances, and the members of the audience filed out of the church into the pale sunshine and were offered a drink of juice or wine. I hurried home, feeling badly in need of a reviving cup of coffee, and pleased at having exposed myself to a new and not completely unwelcome experience.

 

Under the Weather

 

How typically British. Even if a person isn’t feeling well it must be somehow be connected with the weather — that subject of eternal fascination for the true Brit. In my case, however, at least to the best of my knowledge, it didn’t have anything to do with the weather.

We flew from London to France, drove for a couple of hours, picked up some provisions in the nearest Carrefour supermarket on the way, and installed ourselves in our summer abode. The next day I cooked, did laundry, and functioned more or less normally.

It was on the day after that that I could barely drag myself out of bed in the morning and only by dint of tremendous willpower managed to make myself a cup of herbal tea to drink with my morning biscuit (viva McVitie!). The very thought of coffee, which is my usual beverage of choice, made me feel even worse. I spent the day in an armchair, unable to move, eat, or function in any normal fashion.

The next day was more or less the same, only my one thought, after flopping into the armchair, was how to get back into bed. The thought of the expanse of mattress, pillows, and the biggest, softest eiderdown (duvet) I’ve ever seen seemed extremely tempting, and that is where I spent the rest of the day, dozing and coming to from time to time. In most uncharacteristic fashion, I couldn’t even have the radio on with classical music. The idea of food of any kind revolted me, and the only thing I was prepared to drink was, of all things, Coca-Cola, something which I generally eschew. I was unable to think of eating anything, or even taking my prescription pills (ten in the morning, five in the evening). I felt a terrible weakness in my entire body, and could not even stand up straight.

On the third day, I was in a similar state. My one thought was of being horizontal in my lovely, welcoming bed. But then along came another thought. What must my grandmother have felt as she lay dying of starvation and neglect in the Theresienstadt concentration camp some seventy-odd years ago? She undoubtedly had been used to a comfortable bed and clean linen in her Hamburg home, and was now probably reduced to a wooden bunk bed and who knows what rags with which to cover herself (we know that she took some bedding along with her but that was almost certainly stolen upon arrival). And was  there anyone to bring her a cup of tea or even a drink of water? Probably not.

And my other grandparents, my mother’s parents, didn’t even have that when they were murdered in Auschwitz.

What was this terrible disease to which I had succumbed? Yigal thought it was flu, which is something I’ve never experienced. . It felt to me as if something or someone had taken over my body and extracted every iota of strength from it.

So on the fourth day I started taking the antibiotics I always have with me, and I even allowed Yigal to take me to eat something (half a Happy Meal) at the nearest McDonald’s  The idea of anything heavier or more substantial was anathema to me. The institution of McDonald’s is not a place where I would normally choose to eat, but to the aliens that had taken over my body it seemed like a good idea.

Eventually my appetite began to return to me. For almost a week no coffee or anything stronger than toast with a thin layer of butter passed my lips. My strength began to return, and I was even able to stand up straight and walk at more than a snail’s pace.

“It’s a funny thing,” said an English friend who lives permanently iin France. “Many people who come over by plane from England fall ill soon after arriving.”

So it wasn’t aliens who took over my body but a bug that was somewhere in the plane when we came from London. I hope there’s some way of preventing this happening again as we’re planning a trip to the USA which will involve several flights. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. I don’t want to go through anything like that again.

 

 

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman

 

I am proud to announce that I have completed my first vacation task, namely, to read the Hebrew version of David Grossman’s book, the English translation of which was awarded the prestigious Man Booker International prize. I’m also glad to know that the prize money was shared equally between the author and the translator, Vanessa Cohen.

But I must admit that getting to the end of the book was a hard slog. I’ve been reading and translating Hebrew for over fifty years, and consider myself reasonably adept in the language. I have dealt with texts of various kinds – historical, literary, academic, economic – and unless the subject is very esoteric and specialized I am usually able to cope with most texts. In addition, there is nothing particularly difficult about the language of this book. Yes, there are one or two jokes, colloquial expressions, and plays on words that might present a challenge to the translator, but the Hebrew Grossman uses is pretty much the language of everyday speech.

His main protagonist, a rather unfunny standup comedian on a stage in a provincial Israeli town, rambles on and on, taking his audience on the bumpy ride that is the story of his life. His physical and psychological attributes contain nothing to endear him to either his audience or to the reader, and hence it was such a struggle for this particular reader to persevere in reading another few pages every now and again.

The entire evening’s performance goes from bad to worse, with Dovele, the ‘comedian,’ meandering in and around any subject that happens to pop into his head, eventually describing a particularly unpleasant journey from summer camp to his home. The narrator describes the growing impatience of the physical audience, which gradually trickles away as the performance continues. In the end only a handful of people are left. By persevering in continuing to read to the end, the reader is identifying to some extent with the narrator, who knew Dovele when they were both young, and who now feels guilty at not having shown him more support in his time of need.

But is the real object of the book to make the reader feel guilty? I’ve always said that it’s guilt rather than love that makes the world go round, but to go this far in order to convey that essentially Jewish emotion seems to me to be taking things a bit too far. It seems to me that the joke’s in fact on us. The book is essentially a typically British kind of joke, known as a shaggy dog story, that has got out of hand. Shaggy dog stories are long and convoluted and don’t necessarily have to be about dogs, shaggy ot otherwise. My late father used to entertain guests with one about a horse (neighbour asks passing neighbour to help get horse into house, then up staircase, then into bathroom, all just in order to annoy visiting know-all mother-in-law when she screams, ‘John, there’s a horse in the bathroom!’ by answering ‘I know’). The telling of the tale took a good few minutes, with delightfully pretentious British manners derided with affection, and almost always occasioned hearty laughter.

But no-one feels like laughing when one gets to the end of Grossman’s book. Nor does one even feel like crying. There’s just a sense of emptiness, an exaggerated awareness of the senseless futility of life, and that you, the reader, have just wasted several precious hours in reading this sad book about a sad life in a sad place. Me, I’m reminded of a short story by, I think, Somerset Maugham, about a young boy at a British public school who is called to the Headmaster’s study to be told that the father whom he idolizes has been killed. Imagining some heroic deed he asks whether he was shot through the heart, only to learn that a balcony had collapsed in a Naples street and the pig that had been kept there had fallen on his father and killed him.

Now that’s a story well told, within reasonable limits of time and energy, and does not leave the reader feeling he/she has wasted his/her time. But that’s British humour for you, and that simply can’t be beat. It seems the Man Booker International jury lost it.

 

London etc.

As is our custom, Yigal and I take each grandchild to London as a bar- or bat-mitzva present and in order for them to familiarise themselves with their ‘roots.’ These are truly rather farcical roots, as the fact that their grandmother (i.e., yours truly) was born and brought up in England is a quirk of fate and the result of England’s acceptance of a limited number of refugees from persecution by Hitler in the years prior to WWII, and specifically after the pogrom known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

Anyhow, it’s always nice to give a grandchild a treat. And it’s always nice to have an excuse to visit London. We have in the past taken two grandchildren at a time, doing our best to take any two (siblings or cousins) who are close in age. This time, however, there was no-one near Yoav’s age-group, so instead we took his mother, our daughter, as she was celebrating a special birthday, and we thought that this would make the experience more enjoyable for Yoav, and for us.

That was indeed the case. We tried to do all kinds of fun things in London, starting by going around on an open-topped bus to see the sights (Big Ben caused Yoav considerable excitement), and got off in order to visit the Tower of London and gawp at the Crown Jewels.

We were lucky with the weather and were able to enjoy the city at its best, with the buildings shining in the sun and people looking happy at being able to wear light summer clothes. We had packed umbrellas and raincoats just in case, and sure enough they came in handy on our last few days. The wonderful British summer strikes again!

But young Yoav seemed to enjoy every minute. He especially appreciated the tour of the Arsenal football stadium but he also enjoyed the concert of music by Bach and Vivaldi (including the latter’s Four Seasons) in the church of Saint Martin in the Fields. We also took him to see the wonderful show of The Lion King, which even on our third visit still enchanted and delighted us. It is truly a celebration of all things African, with unbelievably beautiful and talented actors who are also singers, dancers and acrobats. The London Eye gave us a view over the whole city and wasn’t scary at all, even though when viewed from afar the concept appears frightening.

Yigal enjoyed being able to show Yoav some of the priceless objects of historic significance in the British Museum, as well as some of the art in the National Gallery. No matter what others may say, in my opinion Britain has done a great service to world culture by acquiring the treasures of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia, as the forces of Isis would most certainly have destroyed them.

Our visit ended and Dana and Yoav returned to the heat of Israel’s summer, while Yigal and I moved our vacation location to France, where we are currently enjoying a less hectic time and more temperate climate, at least for now.

 

Theresienstadt 1941-1945; The Face of a Coerced Community

This monumental monograph, by H.G.Adler (Cambridge University Press, 2017), to which no book review can hope to do justice, comprises more than 850 pages and constitutes a far-reaching and detailed account, or rather scientific analysis, of the concentration camp that was located in what was known by the Germans as the Protectorate and today is the Czech Republic. The book was first published in German in 1955 and a revised edition in 1960. Only recently has the long-awaited English version been made available to the general public.

The author, who was himself incarcerated in Theresienstadt from 1942 to 1944, was known before his deportation there as a poet, novelist, and scholar. In this book he has produced a seminal work that is generally devoid of personal reminiscences but rather undertakes an exhaustive and objective study of the various aspects that went into the making and maintenance of the camp, focusing systematically on such categories as the history, sociology, and psychology of the camp (or ‘ghetto’ as it came to be called at a later stage). Within each of these major categories there are subdivisions into such subjects as deportations to and from Theresienstadt, administration, population, housing, nutrition, labor, economy, legal and health conditions, to name but a few. Each section, chapter, and category is accompanied by extensive statistical data, original source-material, personal accounts, and documentary evidence.

The somewhat incongruous photo chosen for the cover illustration shows a prisoner wearing a cook’s uniform giving out food in the ghetto courtyard to a newly-arrived transport of Dutch Jews. It seems somewhat strange at first, considering the general insufficiency of food in the camp, but this fits into the façade of normality that the camp was designed to convey. The ‘normality’ of the camp was, however, a sham created by the Germans, who ruled a society based on violence, intimidation, and a set of warped ‘rules and regulations’ governing the lives of the unfortunates imprisoned there.

Adler traces the history of the camp from its initial inception by Himmler and Heydrich as ‘a city peopled by Jews’ to its functioning as a place of imprisonment for thousands of individuals brought primarily from the Protectorate and the Reich. Many of those sent there were considered to be privileged because of their service in the German army in WWI or special social or intellectual status. Adler describes the horrors experienced by those deported there in cattle cars or passenger trains followed by the initial processing procedure. The new arrivals had to undertake a three-kilometer walk to the camps from the railway station of Bohusovice, carrying their luggage and supervised by SS men who often used violence to get their victims moving. Having arrived at the camp the prisoners were instructed to leave their luggage at the processing center (the Schleuse), where wholesale confiscations and theft were rife, perpetrated by both the SS and dishonest Jewish inmates.

Acceptance of the inadequate and poor quality rations constituted the next step in the process of ‘acculturation,’ and many new arrivals were unable to tolerate the meager and unsavory victuals. Adler likens arrival and processing at the camp to birth, a passage from one state of being to another, and one that is generally accompanied by crying. He describes the mental anguish and process of debilitation experienced by new arrivals, and by elderly persons in particular, many of whom rapidly descended into mental conditions akin to dementia and/or hysteria, as well as a form of apathy that soon led to death.

Accommodation and sanitary conditions in the camp were substandard in the extreme, disease and vermin of all kinds were rife, and the overcrowding meant that privacy and hygiene were simply out of the question. Certain individuals were able to benefit by being appointed ‘room elders’ or even ‘camp elders,’ and in many cases, according to Adler, these Jews exploited their superior position for personal gain and comfort. Welfare and medical departments were set up, supposedly to care for the prisoners, but there was little that could be done in view of the paucity of the equipment and medicines available. Work of one kind or another was required of all prisoners, and those who complied with this were given extra rations. The threat of inclusion on one of the Transports to an unknown destination in the east (usually Auschwitz and the gas chambers) was ever-present.

In one of the last chapters of the book Adler describes the vibrant cultural and artistic life that prevailed in the camp, perceiving it as an illusory way of escape from the grim reality of the situation. Most of the camp’s leading artists, musicians, actors, and writers were deported to Auschwitz and murdered there as the end of the war approached. This was also the fate of many of the ‘camp elders’ who had previously benefited from the preferential treatment accorded to them by the SS. The overall impression given by this book is of the prevalence of depravity and misery that seems to have been an almost inevitable adjunct of the general situation in the camp.

In addition to an index, the book also includes a chronological summary of the salient events on a day-by-day basis, as well as two hundred pages detailing sources and literature. Special credit should go to Belinda Cooper, whose translation from the original German reads fluently and well. As an account of an abominable episode in human history, this book constitutes a milestone of objective dedication to recording every aspect of this ‘experiment in evil.’

Heartbreaking and Inspiring

The history of the Herzog Hospital (formerly known as Ezrat Nashim) goes back to 1895 and the establishment of a society to provide care for the chronically ill. Since then the facility has expanded both in physical terms and in its medical scope. In the 1960s it moved to its new building in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighbourhood, and added specialized care for geriatric patients to its psychiatric wards.

In May this year I was privileged to be present at the official dedication of the new Samson Medical Pavilion, which greatly increases the number of beds in the hospital as well as incorporating additional medical services. In recent years the hospital has added the treatment of children needing constant respiratory care to its spheres of treatment, and the new wing provides extensive state-of-the-art nursing in this field.

In addition to Mrs. Karen Lewis, the daughter of the donors, Dr. Heinz and Dr. Edith Samson, various dignitaries addressed those attending the dedication ceremony, which took place on the fifth floor of the new wing. Not all the floors have been opened and are in use as yet, due primarily to lack of funds.

After some words of welcome and warm praise for the hospital’s dedicated staff from its CEO, Dr. Yehezkel Caine, the first speaker was the Minister of Health, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman. He emphasised the importance the Ministry attaches to meeting the needs of Israel’s growing elderly population, and the important role played in this by the Herzog Hospital. The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, stressed the crucial contribution to medical research made by Jerusalem’s many start-ups in the field of life sciences, and Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s Opposition Labour Party and the grandson of Rabbanit Sara Herzog, for whom the hospital is named, spoke of his family’s close association with it. He also made a point of mentioning Israel’s seminal role in medical research and services, noting that a recent edition of The Lancet was devoted entirely to medicine in Israel.

Following the affixing of a mezuzah by Isaac Herzog and the cutting of the ribbon by Mrs. Lewis, the attendees were divided into small groups and given a tour of the new facility. My group was taken round the department for children with respiratory problems. In some cases these are genetic in nature and in others the result of accidents or illnesses of various kinds. Almost all the children in this section, which encompasses several well-equipped wards as well as cheerfully-decorated communal areas, are attached on a more-or-less permanent basis to respiratory equipment of various kinds. The intake consists of infants as young as three months of age and upwards, and some of these remain in the ward until they reach adolescence, when they are moved to another department. Both Arab and Israeli children are cared for, and in many cases their parents establish warm friendships as they attend to their bedridden children.

Passing one ward we heard lovely music. We peered in and saw a young flautist standing by one of the beds, playing for the young patient. As we proceeded along the corridor we encountered another person carrying an accordion, evidently about to perform for other young patients. Petting animals are brought in from time to time, and therapies of various kinds (e.g., music, hugging, movement) are also part of the treatment provided. A cadre of devoted volunteers plays an important role in helping to care for the children and brighten their lives.

While it broke my heart to see the cribs where tiny babies are hooked up to heart-lung machines, oxygen and other items of medical equipment, there is no doubt that the hospital does work of the highest importance. The caring dedication of the ever-cheerful staff is both inspiring and admirable, providing an additional source of pride in Israel’s medical achievements

(This article first appeared in the July 2017 edition of the AJR Journal,)