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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


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I recently read the first volume of Leonard Woolf's biography, and it's interesting to see Woolf and Nemirovsky as part of the same Jewish milleau (even though they weren't, really). Both of them seem quick to assert that they aren't like "those Jews," the stereotypical shtetl immigrants to London or Paris -- part of their attempt to be part of "mainstream" culture and society. [Maybe there's a parallel with Log Cabin Republican Gays in the states who don't want to be associated with drag queens or "effeminate" gay men? Not that all do, but that wanting to claim an identity without taking on the baggage that society imposes on it can be quite a trip.]

The Holocaust breaks apart any way to talk easily, or possibly even insightfully, about the divisions between Jewish groups in Western Europe before World War II. When you go to Holocaust museums now, the shtetl Jews are almost implicitly the heroes, the people who were themselves no matter what suffering they endured. The assmilation-driven Jews in Berlin, Paris, and elsewhere were the fools, dissociating themselves from "their people" and dying anyway.

It's hard to imagine any other religious group being held to such standards. Lutherans for example are allowed to roll their eyes or even sneear at the cultural trappings of Pentecostalism without being called "self-hating Protestants."

My edition of Suite Francaise includes all the "we aren't REALLY Jewish, my wife never wrote anything in praise of Jews" pleading of Nemirovsky's husband after her arrest, so the charge that the publisher "hides" her fraught relationship with "her own community" at least seems false.

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