Elizabeth R. Baer’s book The Golem Redux: From Prague to Post-Holocaust Fiction maps the pattern of emergence from the twelfth- and thirteenth-century instructions on how to create a golem by Eleazar of Worms, to the popular sixteenth-century legend of Rabbi Judah Loew, to the appearance of the golem in contemporary literature and film. Her focus on “the purposes of intertextuality in post-Holocaust [End Page 866] fiction, specifically the purposes of appropriating the golem legend in this fiction” is clearly asserted and well organized throughout the chapters while her tone, playful at times, allows her to create some light in the often smothering darkness of post-Holocaust literature (8). Baer accomplishes exactly what she sets out to do in “call[ing] attention to story itself and to the use of imagination over the centuries as a tool for exploring human nature” (9), an even more complex task in the study of post-Holocaust literature.
Baer rejects as inappropriate the term evolution when dealing with the different uses of the golem, as there is no Darwinian “adaptation” or clear progression taking place. She asks that we view these changes as a palimpsest—ridding us of the search for the “true” golem in exchange for the layered being, “texts layered upon texts through intertextual gestures that reveal and valorize various emphases at various times” (22). As one reads Baer, one sees that her book itself is structured as a palimpsest—each chapter can stand alone, but each piece is strengthened by what comes before and what follows.
Baer begins chapter 1 by detailing the history of the golem from the word’s appearance in the Book of Psalms. For a religion and ethnicity founded on the written word, Baer acknowledges the importance of this referenced term in the Torah and its subsequent influence on the Jewish imagination. The original purpose of the golem, according to Baer, is not for instrumental means but rather to share God’s creative power, a power founded on language. Chapter 1 leads us from this purely creationist use of the golem to the golem created to serve man. Demonstrated through Rabbi Yudl Rosenberg’s frequently imitated book The Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague with the Golem, the golem legend was manipulated to fit the needs of a threatened Jewish people for a protector, or at least the hope of one.
Chapter 2 discusses the appropriation of the golem by non-Jews and depicts intertextuality gone wrong. Focusing on Gustav Meyrink’s Der Golem (1915) and Paul Wegener’s Der Golem: Wie er in Die Welt Kam (1920), Baer discusses how these works brought the golem into popular culture and how this expansion refashioned the golem as a negative Jewish stereotype. Meyrink’s text, which was illustrated by Jewish artist Hugo Steiner-Prag, creates “an utterly strange man, clean shaven, of yellow complexion, Mongolian type, in antiquated clothes of a bygone day” (40). Here, the golem has been turned into the conflation of “stereotypes of Ostjuden and of other racial types viewed as strange and inferior.” Wegener’s film goes much further in its use of Jewish stereotypes and clearly links the legend of Rabbi Loew with the occult. Both texts take the servant or hero of the Jews and “turns him into an exotic other, a synecdoche for the ‘evil’ of Judaism and Jews” (68). [End Page 867]
In contrast with the anti-Semitism highlighted by chapter 2, chapter 3 focuses on how the traditional heroic legends of the golem were retold in post-Holocaust America and how the traditional legend and modern interpretations allowed for the golem to continue serving its purpose, “helping readers find identity, understand human nature, discern what we can of divinity, and achieve social justice” (70). In her reading of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s and Elie Wiesel’s books, both titled The Golem and written in 1982 and 1983 respectively, Baer reminds us that “the worlds in which they spent their childhoods vanished before their eyes when they were yet young men” (81); their...