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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211

A Beggar in Jerusalem by Elie Wiesel looks at the impact of the Six-Day War. The book is narrated by David, who reveals the challenges that the Jewish survivors experienced. David visits Jerusalem after the war. When he reaches the Western Wall, he finds madmen and vagrants. They encourage him...

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A Beggar in Jerusalem by Elie Wiesel looks at the impact of the Six-Day War. The book is narrated by David, who reveals the challenges that the Jewish survivors experienced. David visits Jerusalem after the war. When he reaches the Western Wall, he finds madmen and vagrants. They encourage him to confront his past and connect it to the present. Therefore, Wiesel constantly shifts between the past and present when telling the story, primarily focusing on Jerusalem. The narrator explains the significance of the Old City to the Jewish people. The story focuses on the Jewish people and their experiences post-World War II.

David gives descriptions of the battle scenes during the Six-Day War. The narrator describes how he went to battle with the united Arab armies. He constantly thought about his death and wished that he could die because he believed that God had forsaken the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Israel won the Six-Day War, which was followed by celebrations by the Jewish people.

Before the fighting began, David had a friend, Katriel. They had agreed that if one of them came back from the war, he would tell the story of the other person and what happened. To honor his friend, David also tells the story of Katriel.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682

The year is 1967. The Six-Day War has Israel under threat, but the Jews win. The ancient western temple wall in Jerusalem is recovered. As David, the novel’s narrator, tells the story of this struggle, the Jewish triumph reverberates with recollections and questions whose Holocaust-related themes shadow the victory.

A beggar has been in the struggle. He has seen Jerusalem secured by Israeli troops, but the result does not add up to satisfaction, for the beggar cannot forget the prices paid—particularly the loss of his friend, Katriel, and the repeated “destructions of Jerusalem elsewhere than in Jerusalem.” In joy and sadness, the beggar finds companionship with kindred spirits who gather at the Wall. They are waiting—some for understanding, some for lost friends, and all in their own ways for God. They also swap stories.

The beggar remembers, for example, Jews being marched into a forest. It is hot. Most of the men, women, and children are permitted to sit on the grass while a few dig pits. The job completed, an officer drives up and finds everything in order. He proposes that the action be carried out in family units and lets the people talk things over. Some of the young try to resist, but they are no match for their German guards. The killing is delayed only for a moment. It goes on for hours, interrupted twice. Tevye the Tailor has ten children. It takes time to line them up along the grave. There is also a young man who sings. Apparently the shooting cannot silence him, even though he has no wish to be a lone survivor, a madman whose tale neither can be fully told nor fully heard and believed.

Is this story literally true? Yes and no. Such scenes were not uncommon during the Holocaust, when shooting squadrons murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews. Yet Wiesel’s primary concern is to recover the speech and silence that such episodes are likely to have contained; it is in this domain that the power of his characters and authorship resides. Thus, as the killers do their work, the novel allows its reader to hear a Jewish teacher talking to his disciples. For reasons that this man does not know, God, he says, “demands our lives in sacrifice.” Very well, they shall accept the inevitable in strength, without asking for mercy that will not be. However, the teacher adds, “Know too that the God of Israel is today violating the Law of Israel. The Torah prohibits killing the cow and her calf on the same day; yet this law, which we have faithfully observed, does not apply to us. See that what is granted to animals is refused to the children of Israel.”

Another scene: Katriel is married to Malka, an orphan who wants no children for fear of nourishing death. Malka, however, is persuaded by Katriel’s father, and Sasha is born. The boy is a delight, but “then came the day when the parents returned home alone and defeated.” Katriel and Malka endured, although at times memory could not be tamed. Once while studying Talmud with his father, Katriel had enough: “We love You, God, we fear You, we crown You, we cling to You in spite of You, yet forgive me if I tell you my innermost thoughts, forgive me for telling You that You are cheating! . . . You bless us, and You take back Your blessing. Why are You doing all this, to prove what?” Not long after, Katriel kissed Malka goodbye, and went off to fight for Israel. Malka became an orphan again.

A Beggar in Jerusalem ends with David, the narrator, “still here on this haunted square, in this city where nothing is lost and nothing dispersed.” However, he knows that he will be moving on, homeward with Malka. There is victory in this novel, a small measure of victory. Its staggering cost, however, is likely to leave Wiesel’s readers where they usually find themselves: with more questions than answers and yet more determined to make life as good as it can be.

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