Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nemirovsky Was No "Jewish Holocaust Author"

I had a letter published in last week's Jerusalem Post Friday Magazine but it hasn't made it to their Internet site:-

Marilyn Henry ("'Woman of Letters'", Oct. 10) takes up the cause of Irene Nemirovsky who has been termed a "self-hating Jew". She asks "who are judge Nemirovsky?" following up the literary affair surrounding the post-Holocaust fame the authoress has gained. For Nemirovsky denied her Judaism. But how did she do that?

Born in 1903, she married a Jew at age 23 but three years later published her first novel with negative Jewish stereotype: the Jewish banker. Denied French citizenship in 1938, she converted to Catholicism the next year and published stories in two anti-Semitic magazines, most probably to hide her family's Jewish origins. As Ruth Franklin pointed out in The New Republic in its January 30, 2008 issue, quite a politically liberal forum, Nemirovsky pandered "to the forces of reaction, to the fascist right [with] stories of corrupt Jews" and even saw herself as so un-Jewish that she considered it proper to write a personal plea to Marshal Pétain to avoid deportation.

The conclusion, as Henry suggests, of purging of our bookshelves is ridiculous. All one needs to do is to ignore Nemirovsky's Jewishness quotient and simply read her posthomous works as literature, her Jewish origin notwhithstanding.

I have also previously related to her "Jewish quotient" here.

And now TLS adds this:-

...The anti-Semitic laws of October 3, 1940 caused the newspaper to renege on Némirovsky’s contract. She then appealed to the Société des Gens de Lettres, who upheld her rights, only to be met by the editor’s [refusal]...In her desperation to be published, to earn much-needed money and sustain herself as a creative writer, Némirovsky turned to the collaborator Horace de Carbuccia, who published her work in his weekly newspaper Gringoire, alongside anti-Semitic diatribes and propaganda cartoons. Les Biens de ce monde, appeared in instalments from April 1941 until June and was attributed simply to “a young woman”.

And now, there are those who wish to identify this "young woman" as a Jewish heroine of the Holocaust. And her biographers, Philipponnat and Lienhardt, call her “a lacemaker among savages”.

As I wrote in my letter, one need not read Nemirovsky's novels as "Jewish" literature to appreciate them. Her personal tragedy melded with that of the Jewish cdollective. Nevertheless, a posthumous crowning of her as a Jewish Holocaust author is not only wrong factually but unnecessary. Those who champion her in this role are in error and are contributing to a watering down of the true courage of Jews who went to the aktions in tallit and tefillin. For they were proud Jews. Unlike Nemirovsky.

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