How does one deal with the Holocaust and its memory? This is the question that “Rosa” brings to mind, but does not necessarily answer. Rosa Lublin’s niece Stella theorizes that there are three lives: before the Holocaust, during, and after. Rosa claims: “Before is a dream. After is a joke. Only during stays.” Rosa’s answer to dealing with the Holocaust is to carry it with her every day, to deny that there is a life after by living only in the past.
In fact, in moving to Miami Beach, Rosa has returned to a confined camp of sorts. Where the Warsaw ghetto segregated and confined Jews, Miami Beach confines the elderly. The few younger people Rosa encounters are segregated from the elderly by fences: the gay men at the beach, the receptionist in her “cage.” Even the description of the elderly as “scarecrows, blown about under the murdering sunball with empty rib cages” brings to mind images of emaciated concentration camp prisoners.
The words and images Ozick uses to describe Miami Beach depict a place just this side of hell. The heat and humidity are oppressive, thick, and suffocating; the air is “molasses,” the streets are a “furnace,” the sun is “an executioner,” bringing to mind more images of Holocaust atrocities. The heat serves to further confine Rosa in her dismal, grimy room, which she shares with “squads of dying flies.” In coming to Miami, Rosa has moved back into the worst of her past.
As Rosa lives in the past, clinging to her memories of Magda, there are signs that she would actually like to move on but has no idea how to do it. First, there is the simple fact that she continues to live, however marginally. Second, it seems that she realizes her mistake in coming to Miami; she writes her niece, “Where I put myself is in hell,” and she later suggests naively to Stella that she could return to New York and re-open her store. Finally, her attempts to get rid of the optimistic Persky seem half-hearted, and when she is with him she worries about her hair, her missing button, the fact that she is not wearing her nice shoes. Though these signs indicate some willingness to move forward, her isolation and misery have become such an ingrained way of life that she is not even fully aware of other options. When Persky comes into her dingy room and sets her table to eat the crullers he has brought, “to Rosa this made the corner of the room look new, as though she had never seen it before.”
The incident on the private hotel beach gives Rosa a chance to rewrite her own history in some small way. When she is trapped on the beach behind barbed wire, she is forced to relive the past not just in her mind, but in reality. She pleads with the men on the beach to let her out, but they refuse. They are her persecutors, her jailers. This time, however, she makes her own escape, finding her way through the hotel kitchens and into the Eden-like lobby. After telling off the hotel manager, she marches out of...
(The entire section is 1230 words.)