Thursday, August 27, 2009

"The raped Jewish body"



I was exposed to Shiksa's blog lately, and enjoyed her beautiful posts so very much. I don't come from a Hassidic background, nor do I speak Yiddish, yet, I did grow up in a semi-religious home in Israel, thus felt close to most of the issues brought up by her, especially: the Jewish holidays, religion, and family matters. I thought that it would be nice to rejuvenate the blog with some fresh topics, which may interest the readers of this unique blog.

Years ago, as a student, I took a course about two holocaust writers. One of them was Yehiel De-nur, known as Ka-tzetnik ("Concentration Camper" in Yiddish). From an early age, I was fascinated with the subject, and watched everything that was shown in the Israeli TV. I guess I was fascinated with death from an early age, which explains my passionate interest with people that kill themselves (Sylvia Plath, in particular), or others (serial killers). Few days ago I had a very stimulating conversation with someone that I find very interesting. I told her that I believe that a child, that is beaten, feels, unconsciously, as if he might not survive the beatings and die. I was beaten, and thus assume that that’s the reason for my fascination with death.

As of lately, I'm fascinated with an essay about De-nur, the person who fulfilled, for many years, the role of the national holocaust writer in Israel. The stuff I come across is truly captivating to me, and I thought to share some of it with you the readers. I know some of you speak Yiddish, and could easily identify with the background of Ka-tzetnik, who grew up in a Hassidic home, and wrote in Yiddish and Hebrew.

Ka-tzetnik (1916-2001) was born in Sosnowiec, Poland, and was a prisoner at Auschwitz for two years during World War II. After 1945 he immigrated to Israel, and wrote about Auschwitz. Unfortunately, I didn't read any of his books, mainly because I don't like his writing style, which is kind of kitschy. Because of his Hassidic background, his books are full of purity motifs and blood motifs that give a realistic feel, but actually create a surplus that precisely distance from realism. In any case, I always prefer the theoretical, and for me, reading about books is much more fun than reading the actual books.

There are arguments about the quality of Ka-tzetniks' books, not so on their enormous influence. The center of the argument is: why his books describe in great details violent sexual acts in the extermination camp Auschwitz (like cruel rapes of Jewish youth by Nazi soldiers and prison guards). Why the holocaust description is given in the mode of sexual prism, or even pornographic, combined with kitsch and death? And why his books accepted with such a big enthusiasm in the Israeli culture, and eventually adopted by the ministry of education, that distribute them as a present to high school students?

One of the answers comes from a guy name Eli Eshed. He claims that the connection between sexual acts to the holocaust created an extreme and unusual mental atmosphere, one which was captivating the conservative provincial and puritan Israeli readers of the sixties. Oz Almog, who writes a lot about the Israeli society, writes that there was a thirst for sexual arousal material in the sixties, a period of pornographic drought. Because the dealing with sexual material and the publication of them were considered a perversion, attributing them to the perverse world of the Nazi, was the right ruse for publishing them. The covert message was: you are reading about sex that does not happen around our districts, in our respectable and modest places, but rather in a cursed place populated by pervert people. Therefore, this material is allowed reading.

Regarding why the ministry of education adopted ka-tzetnik's books, the answer is a national-allegorical one: the rape of the men and women in these books is rape of the nation. The passive Jews, that are compared, in the spirit of the period, to women (next paragraph will explain why), are being raped in consent, for they didn't become "new Jews", meaning masculine-active that fights for their dignity and independence, in their fathers' land. Ka-tzetnik entered the holocaust Israeli writer's canon in Israel, since his description of the horrors in exile taught the Israeli boy how he should behave in his own country, so his fate will not be identical to the fate of ka-tzetnik's characters, their bodies desecrated, and their dignity lost.

(The Jews were being compared to women at the time because of developments that occurred in Western Europe, toward the end of the 18th century. The bourgeois of the 18th century hide and suppressed his body, but at the turn of the century his body was newly revealed. Meaning, new ideal body was created, ideal that identified the young masculine body, shaped like the Greek sculpture, with the "good citizenship". This recognition was made because the modern communities were strongly connected to the reality of war, which in, for the first time, volunteered citizens were participating as an alternative to mercenary. Those, after released from the army, supplied the social and political life in values and norms such as: physical fitness, endurance, discipline, courage, etc – all acquired in the battlefield. Women, that didn't participate in war of course, were excluded from the public discourse. That was true for Jews as sell. They were excluded since they were defined in advance as people with defective body, undefined and feminine. The scientific outlooks of the time didn't refute those traditional outlooks, they gave them authorization. The war myth was: a person that is not fit fighting against the common enemy is probably his partner, thus cannot be considered citizen. Jewish physicians of the time, that read those studies and absorbed the conclusions, argued that it's possible to change the damaged Jewish man's body, so he will be able to contribute to country and army. Zionism and psychoanalysis internalized those Anti-Semitic outlooks, and requested to rehabilitate the Jewish body from his feminine weaknesses, melancholy and hysteric. In this manner, "muscle Judaism" was born by the wording of Max Nordau, who tried fighting Jewish degeneration, on the speaker stand in second Zionist congress from 1892).


From: "a different look in 'the other planate'", thesis for M.A. at Tel-Aviv University, 2005, by Oren Segal.