Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mizrahis and the Holocaust

Batya Shimony recently published an article called "Being a Mizrahi Jew, an Israeli and touching the Holocaust" at 972 (May 10, 2014). A lot of fascinating stuff here. Just a couple excerpts:

Living in Israel as a Mizrahi means growing up in a society that sanctifies the memory of the Holocaust and turns it into symbolic capital that is passed on from father to son. At the same time, it means belonging to an excluded group that is devoid of status, whose history and chronicles are of no interest except to the extent that they pertain to a colorful folklore or affirm the Zionist rescue narrative...

And this, which really made me want to read Yossi Sucary:

Lea Aini in Rose of Lebanon (2009) and Yossi Sucary in Benghazi-Bergen-Belsen (2013) claim their own family and community’s part in the established historical memory of the Holocaust. In both cases the survivors’ experience of the Holocaust had not been acknowledged by the establishment, and despite having undergone such terrible suffering they received no recognition whatsoever from the Israeli public and memorial institutions.

Aini describes her father, an Auschwitz survivor: “[h]e sits there on the eve of the Holocaust Memorial Day, scrunched under his robe, already perched across from the TV that repeatedly broadcasts the appropriate programs and films, which offer no mention of the Jews of Greece – thus, Father continued sacrificing himself, and us, on the altar of Survival, as if none of it had ever ended” (228). The terrible rage that built up inside him was violently directed at his family members.

Rage is where Sucary’s novel begins, telling the story of a group of Libyan Jews that were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The many reviews written about the novel highlighted the historical importance of the issue that had finally been brought into public awareness. However, Sucary was not only seeking to present the common fate shared by Libyan and European Jews. His main aim was to show the hatred of Jews directed at their own brethren, and how the European Jews themselves abused the Libyan Jews. The last part of the novel describes the horrors of the concentration camp through the eyes of Silvana, the central protagonist.

From her first encounter with the Ashkenazi prisoners in the camp, she is marked out as a “darkie,” as someone who is “not one of our own.” Her “inferior” status, owing to her ethnicity, enables one of the prisoners to harass her, verbally abuse her and sexually assault her. Finally, he sets up a trap for her, seducing her to a remote spot where she is degraded and raped by three Dutch kapos.

The descriptions of the brutality shown towards Silvana by the European Jews seem far more extreme than those of the Germans. When dealing with the Germans, Silvana is resourceful and manages to find solutions, while in her encounters with the Ashkenazi Jews she is humiliated in the most extreme and vulgar way. As she’s being raped, a thought crosses her mind: “who could save her? Her own white Jewish brethren, who treated her as though she were a human animal that weaseled her way into their group?” (299).

These descriptions illustrate the novel’s underlying agenda, which is not merely to depict the experience of the Libyan Jews in the Holocaust, but also, and perhaps mainly, to protest against the condescending and hurtful attitude the Ashkenazi Jews had towards them. This was the same attitude the Libyan Jews were shown later on, upon their arrival in Israel.

Sucary's Benghazi-Bergen-Belsen was published in Hebrew. The only translation of his work available is, apparently, Emilia et le sel de la terre -- but in French. It sounds like a great read.

No comments: