Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 289
The story focuses on a man named Ernie Levy, who is named a Lamed-Vovnik, which in the Jewish tradition, means “a Just Man.” Ernie is living in Europe just before World War II, but his story begins centuries earlier, in 1185, just after a group of Jews were murdered in England. According to Jewish legend, God proclaimed that 36 men from each generation would be named Lamed Vovnik, and as such, they would endure all the pain and suffering of the world. Without the Lamed-Vovnik, everyone in the world would die because the suffering would be too great. Schwarz-Bart tells the story of the men who inherited this position before Ernie, and then he focuses on Ernie. Ernie learns the stories of the Lamed Vovnik, and he prepares himself to accept his fate.
As a child, Ernie is tortured and tormented by his friends, and he suffers unbelievable mental anguish. He becomes mad and soon comes to believe that he is nothing more than a dog. As World War II intensifies, he falls in love with Golda, however, a physically disabled Jewish girl who makes him feel loved and wanted. Soon, however, she is taken by the Germans to a concentration camp to die. Ernie follows her there, and he asks to be admitted. At the concentration camp at the hands of the Germans, he suffers unbelievable torture again. However, he is able to be with Golda for a short time before they are taken to the gas chamber to die. He travels to the gas chamber with Jewish children, who are doomed to die as well, and on the train and in the gas chamber he does his best to comfort them and make their deaths a little more bearable.