Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

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As an autobiographical memoir, In My Father’s Court paints the familiar portrait of the physical and intellectual development of a sensitive and observant youth. Because Singer’s novels and stories are frequently thinly veiled treatments of identical subject matter, In My Father’s Court may be read as a valuable source of the “real” facts behind the fictions. Asa Heshel Bannet’s fascination with Spinoza in Die Familie Moskat (1950; The Family Moskat, 1950) and Aaron Greidinger’s Krochmalna Street address in Neshome Ekspeditsyes (1974; Shosha, 1978) are but two among the many examples of Singer’s protagonists taking on the attributes of their creator.

Yet without denying its importance as a record of Singer’s formative years and thus of the people, the places, and the ideas that shape his fiction, In My Father’s Court is chiefly valuable—at least for Singer himself—as a work of remembrance. In the wake of Adolf Hitler’s destruction of European Jewry, those who lived through the Holocaust dedicated themselves to what they considered a sacred duty: to preserve the history of their people. For concentration camp survivors such as Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, this meant creating a permanent record of the atrocities they had witnessed. For Singer, who emigrated to the United States well before the German invasion of Poland, it meant reanimating the lost world of pre-1939 East European Jewry. Indeed Singer’s works, including In My Father’s Court, can be read as chapters in the history of his people from the mid-eighteenth to the late twentieth century. Even in those works which treat events relatively remote from the Holocaust, that overwhelming fact of Jewish history is never far below the surface. Although the action of In My Father’s Court halts in 1918, for example, the memoir is peppered with phrases such as “the only one to survive the Nazi holocaust” and “I do not know whether he lived to see the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.” The latter phrase occurs at the end of the episode entitled “Reb Asher the Dairyman” and refers to the title character, a close friend of Singer’s father and one who helped the Singers in every way he could during the World War I years when the family was on the brink of starvation. The chapter’s concluding sentence constitutes Singer’s most explicit definition of the purpose of In My Father’s Court—and of his work in general: “May these memoirs serve as a monument to him [Asher] and his like, who lived in sanctity and died as martyrs.”