Anatoli Rybakov Elie Wiesel - Essay

Elie Wiesel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A novel about the Holocaust? No, rather about the period preceding the Holocaust. Which is just as well. It's been said that a novel about Auschwitz is, of itself, a contradiction in terms. A phenomenon that transcends and negates all possibility of communication; you can't use it to make literature.

Heavy Sand, nonetheless, does deal with the Holocaust. More specifically, the author, Anatoli Rybakov, shows us an unknown or not well enough known, side of it. Of all the documents, studies and testimonies published on the subject of the concentration camp experience, few are devoted to the fate of the Jews in the Ukraine or White Russia. Do people know that all or most of them were never even deported to the death factories? They were massacred on the spot by the Einsatzkommando. Rybakov's book ends with that event.

At the beginning of his story, children are playing, laborers working and old people are dreaming: they are dead without knowing it. They don't know, they can't know that on the other side of Europe, high up in the Nazi hierarchy, the theoreticians of "the final solution" have already condemned them. A mixture of fiction and fact, of agonizing truthfulness and muffled beauty, Heavy Sand permits a glimpse into a universe of ash and silence, one whose destiny, whether you want it to or not, will lie heavy on your own. You will turn its last pages with a catch in your throat….

I dreaded reading his book: what if it were a tract? A social critique or a paean to the system? A Soviet version, non-Jewish and even anti-Jewish, of the war that the Hitlerites waged against the Jews?…

[But politics] figures in it less than history and its effect on simple human beings, people capable of grandeur as well as pettiness, therefore vulnerable, touching, attractive. All of them are not gloriously altruistic, just as they aren't all egoists; and that applies equally to the Jews, Christians and Communists. It's not enough to be one or the other to merit all the virtues or provoke all the curses…. What then is different about Rybakov's book? His Jewish characters appear,...

(The entire section is 887 words.)