The Arty Semite

Irritated by Koestler, Nauseated by Sartre

By Benjamin Ivry

The Polish Jewish author Yuli Borisovich Margolin wrote the gulag memoir “Trip to the Land of Ze-kas,” translated into French in 2010. Its title refers to the Soviet secret police term “Ze-Ka” (or Z/K) for doomed prison laborers who were worked to death in the early 1930s. Margolin, a resident of Palestine who was arrested during a visit to Minsk, survived his imprisonment and returned to Palestine in 1946, where he wrote his memoir.

A welcome new supplement to this masterpiece is Margolin’s “The Return Volume.” A collection of occasional writings from the 1940s-1960s from Editions Le Bruit du temps, “The Return Volume” demonstrates how literature was essential to Margolin’s spiritual survival during his gulag years. In the prison camp, where he was hospitalized for starvation-related ailments, he “endlessly recited” the odes of the Roman poet Horace, especially such inspiring lines as “I have raised a monument more lasting than bronze… I shall not wholly die and a greater part of me will evade the Goddess of Death.”

Stuck in Marseilles, waiting for a transit visa to British Mandate Palestine, Margolin asked a friend for some contemporary French writing. The friend passed along Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Nausea,” a novel about a gloomy historian overwhelmed by life, and “Being and Nothingness,” a ponderous philosophical treatise. According to Margolin, “Nausea” described “life inherently seeming to contain disgust and fear… It was difficult to imagine a book less in harmony with my mood in Marseilles.” Margolin was “in the process of becoming a free man,” having escaped the gulag, and was on his way to the Holy Land. Sartre’s existentialist quandaries repelled him: “I required the bread of liberty, but found instead an oversophisticated dish of French cuisine, smelling of Roquefort cheese.”

Just as he rejects French intellectual defeatism, in another essay Margolin scorns an article by the Hungarian Jewish author Arthur Koestler, an interview with the mufti of Jerusalem, Kamel Effendi. Margolin objects that although Koestler describes Kamel Effendi as “cultivated” and “moderate,” the latter immoderately announces that Jews should “go to hell…into the sea, and be rid of them!” Although Koestler’s later works “Promise and Fulfillment: Palestine 1917 – 1949” and the novel “Thieves in the Night” would be sympathetic to Israel, Margolin was an uncompromisingly fierce defender of his new homeland. After the traumas he had been through, Margolin had no time for the vagaries of either Sartre or Koestler, and posterity would largely agree with him, in time.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuri Margolin, Jean Paul Sartre, Arthur Koestler

Out and About: PEN Literary Awards; Schwartz's Deli, the Musical

By Ezra Glinter

Wiki Commons/LOC
Today would have been George Gershwin’s 112th birthday.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Schwartz's, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Pen American Center, Out and About, Michael Scammell, Martin Cohen, Jewish Manuscript Project, Jeremiah Lockwood, Jazz Talmud, Jacob Siskind, JBooks, Howl!, George Gershwin, Fantasia, Eric Drooker, Eliot Spitzer, Eddie Fisher, Don DeLillo, David Mamet, David Lehman, Allen Ginsberg, Antonina Pirozhkova, Arthur Koestler, Breslov, Client 9




Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.