Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 303

Aharon Appelfeld's haunting Holocaust story starts with the prescient line “Perhaps it would be better to leave the story of Tzili Kraus’s life untold.” The ritual character is a 12 year old Jewish girl living in the Ukraine, when her large family abandons her at their family farm. Tzili is somewhat dim, only ever able to remember a single prayer in school, and her mother assumes no one would ever harm such a pitiful child. However, the cruelty of invading Nazis knows no bounds, and Tzili, of course, is eventually forced to flee, herself. It's a near auto-biography of the author, who escaped a concentration camp to the Ukrainian wilderness for three years before joining the Russian army as a kitchen boy. However eerie the similarities to his own life, Appelfeld did endeavor to write a work of fiction, and by removing his own experiences onto an older girl, he allows himself to explore different avenues.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Silence is a big theme of the book, the lone Tzili hiding like an animal through the seasons. She meets brutal peasants in Winter, and endures the lascivious behavior alone. Tzili works hard during this season, along with Summer and Autumn as she forages and lives in absolute nature. She spends two years, abused by the peasants she serves and finding solace in talking to the cows. The end of the novel sees her joining a band of roaming survivors, and the book doesn't end happy—the aftermath of the physical and psychological destruction of the Holocaust impacts the entire band very deeply. Tzili is a deeply sad character, and almost nothing good happens to her the entirety of her life. There are no easy endings, especially not in this book of a harrowing experience from the eyes of a girl constantly underestimated and taken advantage of.

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

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 she links up with Mark, a forty-year-old who has left his wife and children in the concentration camp from which he escaped.

Like Appelfeld, Tzili looks Aryan and is relatively safe from identification as a Jew. She and Mark live by bartering, using some of his family’s clothing as a trading medium for food. By the time Mark, now guilt ridden, defects, the fifteen-year-old Tzili is pregnant. She trades the clothing that Mark has left behind for food. When this source of sustenance is exhausted, the pregnant Tzili finds work with peasants, some of whom beat her unmercifully.

With the armistice, Tzili joins a group of Jews freed from their concentration camps and goes south with them. She delivers her baby stillborn near Zagreb, but she survives—and with her survives the Judaism that nothing can extinguish. As the novel ends, Tzili and Linda, a woman who had earlier saved her life, are on a ship presumably heading for Palestine.

The theme of this story is survival in the broadest sense—the survival of one woman to symbolize the survival of the Jews and their philosophy. Tzili survives because she has not allied herself with the Jews who allowed assimilation or with the Ostjuden and their mercantile ambitions. Tzili lives because her instincts, her sheer intuition in time of crisis, serve her better than the artificial intellectuality of those who early shunned her and made her feel as though she was not part of her own family.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Next

Characters