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Representing The Holocaust Victims In Literature

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The genocide of the Jews who lived in Europe by the Nazis caused the death of millions of innocent people. The term used to describe this period in history is The Holocaust. The victims who survived moved to other countries to start a new life. they survived by luck but their lives after the war were affected majorly and they struggled psychologically, socially as well as financially. Throughout the years, many critical works about the holocaust were made, and many literary works have been published by authors from different cultures with different visions and purposes. Literary works such as The Cafeteria by singer also films as “the search” by Fred Zinnemann and “the pawnbroker” demonstrate the lives of holocaust victims who survived. Because of The large numbers of victims in the concentration camps, each one came from a different culture, religion, and different nationality. their experiences and the psychological effect they went through are sometimes described differently yet in some way it is similar. In this essay, I will show that the experiences of the holocaust victims and survivors are diverse, and they go beyond the rational.

Written by I.B. Singer in the early 1960s in New York “The Cafeteria” presents a narrator, Aaron. As part of his routine, he liked to go to a cafeteria to meet the “landslip from Poland, as well as all kinds of literary beginner and readers who knew Yiddish” (singer, p.1) most of the customers he met in the cafeteria were old bachelors, an immigrant from Russia and Poland, etc. they discussed Yiddish literature and politics, also about what happened to them in the Holocaust. Years ago in this cafeteria Aarons meets a woman by the name Esther, nearly thirty years old, she was “short slim with a girlish face, brown hair” in addition she had “a short nose, and dimples in her cheeks”(singer, p.79) she drew the men’s attention and “they all hovered around her”(singer, p.79). Aaron liked Esther and he was interested in her but after he met her the cafeteria burned down. Later it was rebuilt but Esther ran away.

Another literary work about the holocaust is “the Pawnbroker” an American film made in 1964 based on a novel. It narrates the life of Sol Nazerman, a holocaust survivor who lost his wife and children in the genocide then he moved to upper midtown Manhattan. His job was to run a pawnshop at Harlem with the help of a young man named Jesus Ortiz, whom he hired but could not befriend. Later on Ortiz and the social worker Marilyn Birchfield try to break Sol’s coldness and bitterness. In the film, Ortiz was murdered and Sol was affected by it.

Different from the previous adult holocaust survivors, in the previous literary works, the character of Karel Malik, another holocaust survivor in a film called “the search” is a young ten years old blonde boy with big blue eyes. In a camp in Germany UNRRA took the responsibility to look after the children who survived the holocaust and Karel survived Auschwitz, a concentration camp. Karel was determined to search for his mother after he was separated from her and in an attempt to continue his search he runs away and later in the film an American soldier finds him and takes him back to his home.

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The negative effect of the holocaust on victims enabled them to merge into society properly and relocate themselves. The character of Esther in the cafeteria is an example of a character who feels displaced. Esther “had spent some time in the camps in Germany before she obtained a visa for the United States.”(singer, p.79) this visa was her ticket to a new life, yet in New Jersey, she worked in a factory for buttons although she could have found a better job. As a lively beautiful young woman “[Esther] did not fit into the group of elderly has-beens” (singer, p.79) Similarly, to ester, Sol another character from “the pawnbroker” feels displaced in the New York society even when he worked in the pawnshop. Harlem at that time was dominated by the black group in society and Jews had a hard time fitting and maintaining a business. Sol was dealing with various customers and there was a moment in the film when he was beaten up.

Holocaust survivors could not forget about the past and the death of the individuals they loved affected them negatively, as their imaginations and fantasies about the holocaust continued to haunt them. The character of Sol suffered from flashbacks, the flashbacks in the film imply the guilt and the pain Sol kept inside him and could not forget. He would have a flashback about his son slipped from his hands in the railroad car or another inmate who threw himself at an electric fence. Similarly, Esther’s experience about the holocaust haunted her in a form of hallucination, one night she could not sleep and “some power commanded [her] to get dressed and go out” (singer, p.91) at three o’clock in the morning and when she arrived at the cafeteria “There was a pale glow inside…The tables were shoved together and around them sat men in white robes, like doctors or orderlies, all with swastikas on their sleeves. At the head sat Hitler.” (singer, p.91) The cafeteria was burned down the next morning. Frightened by such an experience Esther believed Hitler arranged for it to be burned.

Holocaust victims block out emotions, as well as they lack the ability to express sympathy towards others because of the horrors they experienced. for example, in the film, Sol was not able to show emotions to his partner in work neither to his cheerful neighbor Marilyn Birchfield. Sol showed no emotion and he cared little about his business or the world he lived in. His assistant was an enthusiastic young man full of energy who attempted to get close to Sol by asking him to learn the business, but his attempts failed and led to the violent accident and he was shot. Only then at the end of the film after this accident Sol suddenly cries and feels sorrow and love for Jesus. As similar, Karel a character in the film “the search”, trusted no one and he did not speak, scream, cry or express his emotions during the film when he was captured neither when he was taken care of. Although nearly at the end he expressed his emotions after he learned to speak English and when he remembered his mother.

The portrayal of the holocaust victims as relatable characters aimed to gain the sympathy of the American audience. In order to gain sympathy, it was believed that a victim would look a certain way that could reach the hearts of the audience. For example, the character of Karel Malik, as a lost child in a search for his home, his identity, and his mother was portrayed as a blonde Czech boy with big blue eyes. With a small Jewish traditional hat that his mother sewed for him. In addition, his clothes were ripped, and the other children as well were portrayed as innocent little children whom the war destroyed. Unlike Karel, Sol and Esther are adults. Their characters might be difficult to sympathize with because they could digest the horrors of the past and learn to move forward unlike a child. But, in order for their character to be relatable to the audience their unseen scars and their pain were shown as hallucinations and flashbacks, their appearances, and other characters’ view of them.

In conclusion, The Holocaust was a critical part of human history thus Many books and movies about the Holocaust victims and survivors were published. In each literary work, the victims and survivors were portrayed in multiple ways that had a purpose. The horrors of the holocaust experience continued to affect these survivors’ post-war lives such as their psychological health and the emotional burden, plus their attempts to fit into a new society. In addition in order to gain the American society's sympathy and in an attempt to reach the audience around the globe, the victims of such a genocide, the live ones and the dead were portrayed in a specific way.

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Representing The Holocaust Victims In Literature. (2022, February 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“Representing The Holocaust Victims In Literature.” Edubirdie, 26 Feb. 2022,
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