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Dostoyevsky and the Holocaust DRAMATIC ENDEAVOR: READING DOSTOYEVSKY POST-HOLOCAUST by Gary Adelman Gary Adelman is Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and educated at the University ofMichigan and Columbia University. His books include studies of Conrad, Tolstoy, and D. H. Lawrence, as well as a novel, Honey out o/Stone. ----------------Background Note 85 This piece is part ofa larger work on Dostoyevsky which confronts the problem of how to read this flawed genius in our post-Holocaust world. Dostoyevsky died in January 1881, a month or so after completing The Brothers Karamazov. The year before he began the novel, his antisemitism , crudely visceral in his personal correspondence, flared up in his journalism. At the time, 1876-1877, he had become a by-word in Russia with A Writer's Diary, a monthly magazine he authored alone and which had a remarkable press run of six thousand copies. He devoted the March 1877 issue to replying to letters he received from Jews criticizing him for antisemitism. His reply is insultingly facetious and largely consists of his repeating two of the oldest and most persistent calumnies-that the Jews brought misery on themselves by being unassimilable, a foreign entity, a state within a state bonded by hatred of all other peoples, and that they deserved universal opprobrium for being exploitative and materialistic, worshippers of money and morally corrupt. He warned that "Yiddism was creeping over the whole world in place of unsuccessful Christianity." He does not speak specifically of a Jewish plot to take over the world but it is a very small step from what he does say to the message of The Protocols. A third, most persistent, calumny, the "blood libel," that Jews kill Christian 86 SHOFAR Summer 1996 Vol. 14, No.4 children during Easter week, crucifying them in mockery ofChrist, and use their blood in making the Passover matzoh, finds its way into The Brothers Karamazov. PROLOGUE The Warsaw Ghetto, 1942. The shades ofDostoyevsky and Emanuel Ringelblum, ghetto archivist, stand in a square inside the eight-Joot-high, barbed-wire-topped wall that encloses the jews. They watch as, incensed by the sight of his skullcap, a German soldier orders a rabbi to shit in his pants. Elderly jews too slow in removing their hats are doing push-ups. Another soldier orders two women to wash the pavement with their panties and then put them on again. A madjewish woman slugs passersby with a glove full of stones. A German soldier addresses a jewish guard: If I were a Jew, I'd commit suicide. I could never stand the humiliation the Jews are going through. Guard: The Jews are an old people and have endured a great deal. Soldier: You're right, of course. He stops jews and makes them do calisthenics holding a brick in either hand. An undertaker's horse-drawn cart crosses the square. The horses are straining under the weight of many corpses. Dostoyevsky: Where am I? Who are these people? Ringelblum: These are Polish Jews, imprisoned in the city ofWarsaw, starving while they wait to be murdered. You can identifY them by the yellow Star of David each is forced to wear. Their jailers 'are German. You are partly to blame for this state of affairs. Dostoyevsky: Are you placing me among the Jew-haters? When and how did I declare my hatred for them since there was never any such hatred in my heart? And those Jews who are acquainted with me and who have had dealings with me know this. I reject this accusation once and for all. A soldier orders a cantor to stand on a cart and sing a prayerfrom the memorial service, "God full of compassion." The street fills with people listening. Dostoyevsky: May they not be accusing me of hatred because I sometimes call the Jew a Yid? Yid, Yiddism, the kingdom of the Yid: these designate a well-known concept, a tendency, a characteristic of the age. One can argue with that idea, one can disagree with it, but one should not take offense at a mere word. Dostoyevsky and the Holocaust 87...


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