DAY AFTER NIGHT by Anita Diamant
“It was the slowest Kaddish Zorah had ever heard, every syllable weighted by groans and sighs. Pious women on either side of her covered their eyes with their fingers, soundlessly mouthing the words.”
“‘Glorified and celebrated,’ they recited. ‘Acclaimed and honored, extolled and exalted beyond all tribites that man can utter.'”
“Zorah knew that most of the people around her did not understand what they were saying. For them, the ancient prayer was a kind of lullaby, a balm for the afflicted. She wondered if they would be standing there if they realized that they were praising the God who had decreed the murder of their families; that they were expressing gratitude and affection for the One who had annihilated everyone and everything they had loved. ‘We need a new Kaddish for 1945,’ she thought. An honest Kaddish that would begin, ‘Accused and convicted, heartless and cruel beyond anything the human mind can understand.'”
“They chanted, ‘God who brings peace to his universe.'”
“Silently Zorah translated, ‘God who brings Nazis to His universe.'”
Review by Jana L. Perskie (MAY 30, 2010)
As WWII loomed, and Hitler continued to tighten the noose around the Jews of Europe, Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” took place throughout Germany on November 9th and 10th, 1938. Almost 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps, 200 synagogues were destroyed, and 91 Jews were beaten to death.
The British, which ruled Palestine after WWI, were aware of the importance of Arab oil to successfully fight the coming war. They published a White Paper on May 17, 1939, that reduced Jewish immigration to Palestine to a trickle, severely limiting the number of Jews permitted to enter the country in an effort to pacify the Arab leadership’s demand for a halt to Jewish immigration.
Thus, in the late 1930’s, when the Jews of Germany and Austria were in great danger, Palestine was closed to them. The rise of the Nazis in Germany in 1933 and the later military conquests by Germany gave Hitler’s antisemitic government control over most of the populations of Europe. As the realization grew that the Nazi’s were intent on the extermination of European Jews, there was an urgent need for them to emigrate. However, most countries closed their doors to immigration. Only Palestine held out the hope of new settlement where Jews would be welcome. Or rather, that would be the case if it were not for the British restrictions.
The Jews already living in Palestine were determined that their trapped brethren in Europe who managed to escape the coming conflagration, must be brought to Palestine. Thus, the movement for “illegal immigration,” which its proponents preferred to call “clandestine immigration,” was launched.
Ships, most of them unseaworthy, were hired and set sail from various European ports toward Palestine. The British, who had at their disposal battleships, radar and airplanes, managed to intercept most of them, and sent their Jewish passengers back to certain death in Europe. From 1934 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, some 3,000 “illegal immigrants” met their deaths while struggling against the British to enter Palestine. Also, many of the Jews who attempted to immigrate to the Mandatory Palestine during the 1940s were caught after a struggle while arriving by any and every route. They were interned in detention camps – British concentration camps – only differing from the German camps in that the inmates were not starved, gassed or cremated. Over time 50,000 people were imprisoned in these camps during and after WWII, and several thousand children were born there. One such camp was “Atlit,” which is the setting for Day After Night.
The Atlit detention camp, located near Haifa, was constructed by the British Mandate in Palestine, at the end of the 1930s, as a military camp on the Mediterranean coast. It was converted by them between 1939 -1948 to a detention camp for illegals who found themselves, yet again, incarcerated behind barbed wire. The novel takes place over the course of a few months and is based on the true story of the rescue of the inmates from the Atlit camp in October 1945.
The narrative focuses on four Jewish women, all Holocaust survivors, all Atlit inmates, all from extremely different backgrounds, who wait for their release from the camp and the freedom to, hopefully, begin new lives as pioneers on kibbutzim, (collective farms or settlements). Anita Diamant writes, “Not one of the women in Barrack C is twenty-one, but all of them are orphans.”
Leonie is a lovely, sophisticated Parisian who was forced into prostitution. She slept with Germans in order to survive. Many of “her men” found their pleasure by causing her physical and emotional pain. The experience has crippled her psychologically. At first, her three new friends at Atlit condemn her and she is told by one, “When they do find out about you, they will shame you in public. They will send you away. Maybe they will even stone you to death, which would be very biblical, don’t you think? And so appropriate.” Leonie clearly remembers the times when she faced situations when refusal would have meant death. But she is not the only woman in the group who did whatever necessary in order to survive. “Many were reluctant to tell their own stories because all of them began and ended with the same horrible question” ‘Why was I spared?'”
Zorah is a survivor of Auschwitz where she lost everyone she loved. She utilized her gift for languages there and added Romanian, German, some Italian and French to her native languages, Yiddish and Hebrew. This unusual linguistic education, learned from fellow inmates, was her method of survival although her life is still so haunted by atrocitites that she has become numb. When Atlit inmates pray and praise god, Zorah silently chants to a “God who brings Nazis to his universe.”
Shayndel is a Polish Zionist who fought with the partisans during the war. She is a modest, humble woman, who works with the Palmach, the Jewish military forces, in Atlit. Her job is to find out which Jews, if any, had been Nazi collaborators.
Tedi, a Dutch Jewess, tall and blonde, was once told by a friend in Amsterdam that she was lucky – she looked like a poster child for Hitler Youth. She “passed” as an Arayan until she was captured near the end of the war. Tedi escaped from a boxcar in route to a concentration camp and was found by British soldiers who sent her to a displaced person’s center in Landsberg. After more barbed wire, endless barracks and waiting in more lines than she could count, she wound up in Atlit.
These four women’s shared horrors surrounding the Holocaust bond them in friendship. They give each other love and support in order to get through each day and try to recover some semblance of “normal” life.
Obviously Day After Night is not a pleasant read, although the novel is well written and the characters are extremely lifelike. I think the author’s point of view is extremely optimisic. I was haunted by the story long after finishing it. One of the consequences the survivors face, besides their wartime experience and survivors guilt, is the challenge of building new lives. Many are just not up to it. The pain they live with saps their energy and will to live. However, the four friends, Leonie, Zorah, Shayndel, and Tedi seem to have hope for a future and the strength to overcome their suffering and fight for redemption.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 83 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Scribner; First Edition (September 8, 2009)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perskie|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Anita Diamant|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More Holocaust stories:
Lovely Green Eyes by Arnold Lustig
The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff
Day for Night by Frederick Reiken
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