In Tzili: The Story of a Life, Tzili Kraus is in some ways Appelfeld’s female counterpart. As the story opens, she is the least favored of her parents’ children because she, unlike her older siblings, is a poor student, something not to be encouraged in a Jewish-Austrian family with intellectual pretensions. The family, turning its back on its Jewish heritage, glories in its assimilation.
Tzili, a taciturn child, plays on the small plot behind her parents’ shop, ignored by parents and siblings. She is abused because of her poor academic performance and is viewed as retarded. Her parents employ an old man to give their unpromising child lessons in Judaism, but she does poorly even in these lessons.
When it is apparent that fascists are about to enter their town, the Krauses leave, but Tzili stays behind to guard their property. She sleeps through the slaughter that ensues, covered by burlap in a remote shed. Now Tzili, on her own, must live by her wits. Part of what Appelfeld seeks to convey is that her inherent instinct for survival will serve her better than her family’s intellectuality serves them. The family disappears, presumably victims of the Holocaust.
Appelfeld makes Tzili the symbol of a Judaism that survives through sheer pluck during a time of overwhelming difficulty. She consorts with prostitutes, works for peasants who physically abuse her, and struggles to hang onto what little hope there is. In time...
(The entire section is 489 words.)