Chava Rosenfarb

Holocaust survivor and Jewish-Canadian author

Chava Rosenfarb (9 February 1923 – 30 January 2011) (Yiddish: חוה ראָזענפֿאַרב) was a Jewish Holocaust survivor and author of Yiddish poetry and novels, a major contributor to post-World War II Yiddish literature. She lived in Lodz, Poland in her childhood, and moved to Canada in 1950.

Quotes edit

'In the Land of the Postscript: The Complete Short Stories edit

Translated from the Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler (2023)

"The Greenhorn" edit

  • "Where else have you been, tell me" she implores. "Poland," he answers. "That's where I was born, in a city called Warsaw." "Oh, Warsaw is really far! Did you like the city?" "In the past I did." "And today?" "Today the city seems alien to me." "Why? Well, of course, it's been a long time since you've been there." "I am still there." “What do you mean?” “My childhood is there, and my youth is there, and my dearest possessions are all there. Everything that mattered to me is there, and it is all gone."
  • The girl possesses a carefree lightheartedness that makes Barukh feel more acutely the weight of the despair that he carries within himself.
  • "Oh, when will there ever be peace between the old-timers and the newcomers?" one of the listeners sighs.
  • Barukh is beside himself: "You are not the boss of my life, do you hear? I am a human being, just like you. Just like you!" he shouts, his voice growing increasingly louder the smaller he feels inside. "You will not curse me! No! I've heard enough curses in my life."

Exile At Last: Selected Poems (2013) edit

Introduction (1971) edit

  • I respect all definitions of art, but I cherish most the definition which states that art is an expression of the desire to communicate on the most meaningful level.
  • I think that books lacking such an introduction are like houses that one enters directly from the street, still wearing one's shoes and galoshes, still wrapped in the mood of outdoors. But an introduction to a volume of poetry functions like the anteroom to a house, a vestibule where one may shake off the burden of daily routine, where one may take off one's coat and boots, catch one's breath, pause for a minute to absorb the atmosphere of the dwelling one is about to enter.
  • basically, language is an inadequate and limited instrument. No matter what language a writer speaks, she always hopes that it will be universal, that it will transcend the particular ethnic barriers that language creates.
  • Even in the concentration camps, even by the glare of the crematorium flames, there were those who wrote. We were like those humming birds who sing most beautifully when in captivity
  • Liberation was announced through loudspeakers. They spoke of freedom. No one believed, or disbelieved. No one danced for joy. Even a smile seemed more like the grimace of thirsty lips. On the 8th of May 1945, the day the War was officially over, I was taken to the hospital, located in what had once been the dwellings of the SS guards. There I fought with the fever for my life, and won. However, the person who won that fight, the person who survived the camps was someone else. I had died in the concentration camp.

Speech (2004) edit

Full audio here

  • I live there a peaceful, idyllic life—and a life full of contentment. When I consider where I live now, and where I have lived, I cannot believe that I am the same person, that I am the same Yiddish writer and Holocaust survivor who has been asked here to address you on the subject of her life and work. Because neither my life nor my work has been bucolic, idyllic, peaceful, or full of contentment.
  • Accompanied by my sister who had also survived the war, I wandered through all the zones of Occupied Germany. There was as yet no organized transportation system for civilians, so we hitched rides on the top of lorries loaded with coal, or on military trucks, but mostly we wandered on foot along with bands of other survivors. We made our way from the wreckage of one German town to the next. We hurried from one UNRRA office to the other, reading lists of survivors, searching for the name of our father and other dear ones.
  • On my voyage back into the Ghetto, I wanted to take with me all the questions that had tormented me after the liberation. Why had the world learned nothing from our suffering? Were the Nazis only the most extreme example of the urge to do evil, or was the drive to destroy inherent in human nature? The Nazis were, for me, the most obvious channel through which the poison of hatred could flow freely—but the poison itself, where did it come from? What was its source? In writing about the Ghetto, I wanted to find that source. I wanted to discover the essence of our humanity, to touch upon the source, upon the core of the human soul and see it reflected in the soul of the Ghetto Jew, who had stood stripped of every shred of artifice and pretense necessary to leading a normal life. There, in the Ghetto, humans had faced humans without any embellishments or illusions. They had faced the brutality of their fellow human beings, as well as the knowledge of what that brutality meant to their own destinies. It was as if the dams of a river had opened within me and I became pregnant with the idea for my book. And so it was, that by the time I arrived in Montreal, I was doubly pregnant: pregnant with my daughter, who was born in Canada, and pregnant with my novel, which was born here as well, but many years later, when my daughter was already grown and my son was an adolescent. I called this novel about the death of the Jewish community of Lodz The Tree of Life.

Letters to Blume Lempel (1982-1988) edit

Translated from Yiddish by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

  • one’s style, one’s method of writing—these, I believe, truly reveal the face of one’s soul.
  • Even when I’m not writing—and now is not a very productive time for me—I live with my writing and feel it is my anchor, my support.
  • There are times in life when muteness is the only appropriate language.
  • how can one speak of settling when your foundation has been ripped from under you? Nevertheless, one goes on.
  • Writing is good therapy.
  • The crowd was in good spirits, convivial and singing, and for a while the troubles of the world seemed far away.

"Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays" edit

edited and translated from the Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler (2019)

"Confessions of a Yiddish Writer" (1973) edit

  • I was never a Sunday scribbler. Writing was never a hobby for me, a pastime to while away the hours. On the contrary, it was as necessary to me as life itself; it was a refuge, a substitute for living, a confrontation with myself, a form of confession - but always it was a necessity that allowed me to feel that my life had an accompanying motif, an underlying melody. Writing often gave me moments of such ecstasy as can only be experienced by lovers; it gave me instances of such intense spiritual forgetfulness that I truly believed that I and the cosmos were one, so that through the simple act of breathing the air in my room I felt that I was inhaling the universe itself. Clasped within the bosom of this universe, my physical self simply ceased to be. Rare moments these, but blessed.
  • what is writing if not a form of confession in disguise? No matter what the subject, all literary roads lead back to the self. The writer descends like a miner into the deepest shafts of her soul in order to unearth the blackest coals of her torment, or to retrieve the most glittering diamonds of her memories, and bring them back to the surface in the form of fictions that she wishes to share with the world.
  • I was a high-school student when the war broke out. In February of 1940, I, my parents, and my sister, along with the entire Jewish population of Lodz, were herded into a ghetto established in the slums of Lodz, an area called Baluty. The ghetto was encircled by a barbed-wire fence, so that not one Jew managed to escape during all the years of the ghetto's existence. There we subsisted on a starvation diet, labouring for the Germans, and in constant terror of deportation to the death camps of Chelmno and Auschwitz.
  • Each writer nurtured the hope that his or her voice would be heard. It was a drive to raise oneself above fear through the magical power of the written word, and so to demonstrate one's enduring capacity for love, for singing praise to life. Even in the concentration camps, even by the glare of the crematorium flames, there were those who wrote.
  • The more strongly I felt the urge to write, the weaker I felt in face of the enormity of the subject. I feared it, and this fear hovers over me to this day, whenever I try to write on the subject of the Holocaust.
  • It was April. Nature followed its course and gradually began to cover the ugliness, the remnants of violence, with a veil of green and flowers.
  • Now the storm was over, and the world was in no hurry to come and put its arms around us. It did not rush to soothe our wounds with balms of brotherhood. Nations did not open their hearts, countries did not open their borders to let us in. Even the gates of those countries which had just freed themselves from the Nazi yoke and which should have understood us best in our homelessness and desolation were closed to us. No one wanted us. Perhaps the sight of us would have prevented them from forgetting the nightmare that had just passed. The world wanted to forget.
  • The air of liberated Bergen-Belsen began to resound with the familiar songs we had once sung. Near the barracks where our meetings took place, Jewish actors, who were themselves Holocaust survivors, took to the stage in a tent theatre. The golden peacock, symbol of Yiddish poetry and song, began to spread its broken tail. "Yidn shmidn zingen..." ("Jews, smiths, sing!") The words echoed triumphantly through the silent corridors of our former death camp, which was located a mere walk away from our place of entertainment.
  • Just like an object located in space, an event in time is subject to the laws of perspective; the object diminishes and fades the further one moves away from it. But with our tragedy, the opposite happens. The greater the lapse of time that separates us from our past, the clearer and larger our tragedy grows. Our reason cannot digest the ciphers of destruction; they become an abstraction called six million. We are young. Most of us are in our twenties. Our individual horror stories gathered together would outlast even the longest life. We crave the opportunity to tell at least some of these stories. But no one is willing to listen. So we tell them to each other. We remember. We reminisce. We forget ourselves in remembering. Steeped in our misery, we long for happiness. We live in two realities, the one that is past seeming more real, more palpable, than the actual one.
  • I have no idea that at the same time in the United States of America, Theodore Adorno has come out with the sweeping declaration that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. A meaningful, powerful declaration, but it has nothing to do with me. The rhythms surging inside me deny his statement. I think of my father, who prodded me to write, even in the ghetto. I think of the poet Shayevitch, who wrote poems even in the camp, just days before he was sent to the gas chamber. They too deny Adorno's statement. As long as there is life, the human heart will never cease singing of its joys and sorrows. Up to the brink of the grave, man clings to his song, just as he clings to life. Moreover, those who feel the urge to sing, even when their throats emit only a whimper, or a screech, do not ask whether or not they ought to sing. Soon the philosophers will come, Sartre and Camus. Camus will say that life is absurd, nothing but the efforts of a Sisyphus. But the fact that he considers it important to write down his view of life proves just the opposite. Life without song, without spiritual expression, is absurd. Song gives meaning to the travails of Sisyphus.
  • I don't analyze or rationalize about art, about form and style. Everything is clear as day and comes to me as easily as if I were a medium and some other voice were dictating the lines. Within me there is both calm and agitation. I don't want to only memorialize. I want to salvage my inner melody, so as to be able to continue with my life.
  • I feared to approach the world that I had lost. I was terrified of plunging once again into the abyss of suffering, of reliving the reality that had nearly destroyed me. I wanted to enjoy my life, to relish every moment. I had learned its value at great cost. I wanted to forget the nightmare. I deplored the fact that my memory was so vivid and would not allow me to forget. And I felt too weak, too incompetent, in the face of the enormity of what I had to describe. How could I encompass and give life to all those who populated my memory? Was not the novel too elegant and too polished a literary form for such a story, was it not too detached from any lived reality, too much a game of cleverly concocted plots? In writing a novel about the Holocaust would I not end by sinning against a reality that was impossible to encompass? Was I capable of recreating the specific atmosphere of those nightmarish days, assuming that it was possible to recreate it in the first place? As time went on, it became increasingly clear to me that no one, not even the most gifted writer, would be able to capture the true atmosphere of the ghetto. Even if the writer succeeded in writing a masterpiece, it would not, it could not, be the real thing. At the same time, it never occurred to me to consider any form but the novel as a vehicle for what I wanted to say. Only the novel seemed to have the necessary scope.
  • In writing about the ghetto, I wanted to find that source. I wanted to discover the essence of our humanity, to touch upon the core of the human soul and see it reflected in the soul of the ghetto Jew, who had stood stripped of every shred of artifice and pretence necessary to lead a normal life. There, in the ghetto, humans had faced humans without any embellishments or illusions; they had faced the brutality of their fellows, as well as the knowledge of what that brutality meant to their own destinies.
  • Poems were created in the ghettos, and even at the threshold of the crematoria. As long as there is life, the human heart will never cease singing of its joys and sorrows.
  • I wrote The Tree of Life in the hope that I might bring the next generations a little closer to the awareness of what it means to have survived the Holocaust. I bore witness in the belief that there is no future for mankind if it refuses to face itself in the mirror of the Holocaust, disturbing and horrifying though that mirror might be. It is a mirror that tells us that man is not the most beautiful and noble of God's creatures, but the most tragic. It tells us that man's potential for aggression and evil, for hating others and for self-hatred, for committing suicide through acts of homicide and genocide, may lead to his own eradication from the face of the earth. Moreover, if we forget the Holocaust, we deprive ourselves of the knowledge of the human soul, with its hidden recesses of love and care, of dignity and courage, for those were in fact the qualities that the humiliated, spat upon, doomed Jews displayed every day of the tortured lives they led between the barbed-wire fences of the ghetto.
  • We hoped that after the storm the world would be cleansed of hatred, and that there would be brotherhood between the peoples of the world. This hope helped us live - and it helped us die. How naive we were and how bitter has been our awakening! How shocking the reality that we have come to face without any illusions! Finally, it has become clear to us that the world has learned nothing from our tragedy. After the horrendous cataclysm, everything reverted to business as usual, as if nothing had happened. The world has not stopped its wars. The clank of knives being sharpened can still be heard, if not in one place then in another. There have even emerged crackpot historians who claim that the Holocaust is a hoax, a figment of the Jewish imagination. Anti-Semitism has not disappeared from the face of the earth. Instead, it seems to be flowering anew. Its poisonous scent has not failed to reach our nostrils, even on the North American continent. And yet, we have no right to draw the curtains and separate ourselves from our surroundings. We must not turn our backs on the world, echoing the words of the heartbroken Yiddish poet Yakov Glatstein, who exclaimed "A gute nakht dir, velt!" ("Good-night to you, World!") Like it or not, our fate is tied up with that of the rest of humanity. We must constantly hold the truths of the Holocaust in front of its eyes, like a mirror, so that the world might recognize itself in the reflection, might recognize the degree of baseness to which human-kind may sink, but also the moral heights to which it may rise when it does not permit itself to be robbed of spiritual integrity. We mourn the annihilation of an entire Jewish world, a world with its own traditions, its own way of life, its own creativity and ideals - our world. Viavku ha'am, and the people wept. But in our collective sorrow, there is firmly planted the affirmation of our existence.
  • I have many times tried to escape the subject of the Holocaust in my writing, but I have never succeeded. No matter which road I take, it invariably leads me back to the destination that I most want to avoid. My personal life and my literary life have forever been divided into two eras, the era before and the era after the Holocaust, and only from this perspective am I capable of viewing both my own life and human history.
  • I have often been asked what message I, a survivor of the Lodz ghetto, of Auschwitz, Sasel, and Bergen-Belsen, want to transmit to those who have not been there and to their children? The question confounds me. From which bag of highfalutin, well-sounding, hollow phrases do I take my response? What response exactly will satisfy my interrogators' expectations? Would not any answer tarnish the memory of those who did not survive the bondage of the darkest Egypt that ever existed? The only answer I am capable of giving is to echo the passage in the Passover haggadah, which says that, in every generation, each individual must regard him or herself as having personally come out of Egypt. I would say that, in every generation, each individual must regard him or herself as having personally survived the Holocaust, and each individual should transmit this awareness to the sons and daughters of the next generation.

"Feminism and Yiddish Literature: A Personal Approach" (1992) edit

  • I am not a card-carrying feminist, but the intellectual baggage that I bring to the act of writing is certainly coloured by my femininity.
  • modern Yiddish literature came to maturity with the writing of the three classical writers, Mendele Mokher Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, and I. L. Peretz, whose influence served as both guide and catalyst for the generation of Yiddish writers who came after them. But all the members of this generation were male. It was only in the early-twentieth century that Yiddish women writers began to be published.
  • We Jews have every right to be proud of our Yiddish literature, which flowered in such a short time, and which explored both the heights and the depths of Jewish thought and feeling. But the depiction of Jewish women is, with some exceptions, not among our literature's finest accomplishments...some male Yiddish prose writers did faithfully and realistically describe the situation of women in the late-nineteenth century. They depicted their female characters with great tenderness and understanding. But as a general rule, they avoided looking deeper into the more complicated qualities that make up a woman's individuality. The male writer sympathized with the woman's plight; he idealized her, sang her praises, wondered at her, but he knew nothing about who she really was. He did not illuminate her from within.
  • What intrigues me in human nature is precisely the thing that defies gender and sexual difference, heredity and upbringing. If my character is male, then I must try to immerse myself in his masculinity in order to inhabit him completely. The same is true if my character is female...I believe that in a successful literary work the writer rises above her inner censor and transcends the confines of gender; that in such a work it makes little difference if the female characters are depicted by a male or a female writer. In such a work the writer, whatever his or her actual gender, is a feminist. In such a work the female writer is faithful to her own essence and the male writer sees his female characters as autonomous beings, similar to himself and yet different. Such a work would make us realize that we all have an equal share in our common humanity. That, at least, would be my ideal.

"A Yiddish Writer Reflects on Translation" edit

lecture in Montreal, October 2005.

  • It seems to me that there is an inherent difference between being a Yiddish writer and being a writer of any other language. The difference is both psychological and linguistic. The Yiddish language, written with the Hebrew letters of the Bible, automatically places every Yiddish text within the context of Jewish history, of Jewish national and religious experience, and so endows it with a near-sacred quality. The mystical power that Jews ascribe to the Hebrew letters seems to influence the texture of even the most secular Yiddish works, endowing them with an additional lustre. As a result, the relationship between the Yiddish writer and her public is imbued with a sense of spiritual and intellectual connection.
  • I do not see myself primarily as a translator, although I have in fact, with the help of my daughter, translated much of my own work. Nevertheless, when I reflect more deeply on this subject, I realize that my entire life has been a process of translation. I have been translated from my birthplace in Europe to my present home in North America. I have written three novels, one collection of short stories, four books of poetry, three plays, many essays and travelogues. Yet, without translation, all of these would have been relegated to the graveyard of those few libraries that still contain books in my language, or to the bottom drawer of my own desk. This is because the language in which I write, Yiddish, has fewer and fewer readers and writers. Translation represents to me my literary future. It makes me think that not everything I write will be totally lost, even if things do inevitably get lost in translation.
  • What happened after this - that is, after the amazing flowering of Yiddish culture and literature between the two world wars - was a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, when the world experienced the trauma of the Second World War and the Jews of Europe faced mass extinction. Sadly, this too is the history of Yiddish - and it is my own personal history as well. Because my own fate as a writer was so closely dependent on the fate of that beautiful, piquant, tragic language, Yiddish.
  • I was entranced by the kind of magic that went into the act of transposing words from one language into another.
  • I will say no more about the horrors of the concentration camps. They are indescribable and untranslatable.
  • Montreal in the 1950s was a marvel as far as Yiddish culture was concerned. It bustled with a lively intellectual and social life, was home to several important Yiddish writers, and boasted a Yiddish library and a system of private Yiddish-language day schools, to which I sent my children. But while I found in Canada a Jewish community that still spoke Yiddish, the focus of this community had turned away from the universalism of my European past to more specifically Jewish concerns, such as supporting the state of Israel. It was in Montreal that I wrote my novels, and I wrote them in Yiddish. I wrote in Yiddish because it was the language in which I was most at home; it was the language that I knew like the map of my own heart. I could create in no other language. And I wrote in Yiddish out of a sense of loyalty to the vanished world of my youth, out of a sense of obligation to a world that no longer existed. And yet, I hardly knew how it happened, but I gradually became aware that Yiddish was in trouble in Montreal and in the world at large, that the number of its speakers and readers was decreasing.
  • Writing is a lonely profession, and after the Holocaust, Yiddish writers were doubly lonely.
  • Like most writers, I wanted to be read. But I also wanted the rest of Canada to know what I and millions of other Jews like me had lived through during those terrible war years. I wanted the non-Jewish world to recognize our pain, and I wanted to memorialize our vanished past and our lost communities. And so, I found myself once again face to face with the need to find a translator.
  • Translation, I believe, is about interaction, interaction between one language and another, between one form of writing and another. It is the most optimistic of literary endeavours, because it suggests that everything may be transposed, and once transposed, comprehensible. Even idioms, phrases, and sayings that have no equivalents in other languages can, in one approximation or another, be somehow transmuted, so that those who speak an entirely foreign language and belong to an entirely different culture may nevertheless understand one another through the medium of translation.
  • The process of translation, of moving from one language to another, closely mirrors my own experience as a writer, driven from one country to another and from one language to another. I am so grateful to translators, to all translators, for making the literature of the world available to me and to all the peoples of the world, no matter what language they speak, because I do still believe that literature is the primary way in which we may come to understand one another. When translators sit down to their work, they are engaged in more than a mere transposing of thoughts and phrases from one language into another. Sometimes, as in the case of Yiddish, there is much more at stake: it is not merely that translation allows literary works to exist in languages in which they never existed before, but also that translators are engaged in snatching from the jaws of oblivion that which is in danger of disappearing. It is a most honourable calling; it is a preservation of the past in the present. I thank all translators for the fact that they exist and have devoted their lives to breaking down the barriers between peoples and alleviating the curse of the Tower of Babel.
  • Yiddish is my own language, as near to me as the skin on my body. In my youth, when I voraciously read the works of the great European writers, they all spoke to me in Yiddish, because I read them in Yiddish translation. Yiddish was my Esperanto, my key to understanding the lives of other peoples. It established the affinity between them and me, giving me an entree into the obscurest corners of the human soul. To me, Yiddish was never a parochial language. On the contrary, Yiddish literature was a splendid edifice, with open doors and windows.
  • What affects me most is the continual sense of isolation that I feel as a Holocaust survivor, an isolation enhanced by my being a Yiddish writer. I feel myself to be an anachronism, wandering across a page of history where I do not really belong. If writing is a lonely profession, the Yiddish writer's loneliness has an additional dimension. Her readership has perished. Her language has gone up with the smoke of the crematoria. She creates in a vacuum, almost without a readership, out of fidelity to a vanished language, as if to prove that Nazism did not succeed in extinguishing that language's last breath, that it is still alive. Creativity is a life-affirming activity. Lack of response to creativity and being condemned to write for the desk drawer is a stifling, destructive experience. Sandwiched between these two misfortunes struggles the spirit of the contemporary Yiddish writer.
  • Nevertheless, I hold to my old romantic belief that writers of all times and places belong to a noble fellowship; that although they are the voices of their own cultures and languages, they transcend these boundaries. This belief helps me surmount my doubts as I reach out in my foreign language of English to the hearts and minds of the people among whom I live. I want to be accepted as an equal by my literary peers in this country, to be recognized as a writer who is both Jewish and Canadian. I want to come in from the cold.

The Tree of Life, Book One: On the Brink of the Precipice, 1939 edit

Der boim fun lebn (1972) in Yiddish, published in English in 2004

  • The family archives were filled with piles of documents reflecting not only the growth of the Zuckerman clan, but also that of the Jewish community in Lodz. And while still a gymnasium student, Samuel had liked to sneak into the cellar and browse among the dusty papers; he was drawn to them not so much by their content as by the breath of generations gone by that reached him through them. At that time, however, he had been too busy with his own growth, with his own pulsating young life, to summon patience for a serious study of his origins. Then he had been merely proud to be so deeply rooted in his city, and it was sufficient for him to know that he could prove the fact at any time. (chapter 1)
  • a pair of eyes whose gaze spoke the language of stubbornness and determination. (chapter 1)
  • There were moments when he felt something soft, something acutely sensitive vibrating within him. He, who until now had been a 'surface' person, who had been able to call everything by its name with so much self-assurance, and who had had such a concrete sense of reality, began to feel uncertain and vague, to experience a bitter-sweet indeterminate craving, as if something crippled yet trembling with life was desperately trying to break through the thick icy core inside him, crying to come out. (chapter 1)

Quotes about Chava Rosenfarb edit

  • In modern Yiddish writing, the moral, spiritual, and emotional capital of generations of Jewish women was utilized by male and female writers alike...Female prose writers, such as Fradl Shtok, Esther Kreitman, Rokhl Korn, Kadia Molodowsky, and Khava Rosenfarb, also deepened the awareness and understanding of the feminine contribution to Jewish civilization.
    • Emanuel Goldsmith Introduction to Songs to a Moonstruck Lady (2005)
  • The idea of uplift is truly obscene when applied to fiction about the Holocaust, yet it is the main type of Holocaust literature English readers encounter: stories about brave fighters, altruistic rescuers, and sweet girls who insist that people are good at heart—or worse, easy bromides about the absence of God instead of accusatory truths about the evils of man...Does that mean imagination ought to have no place in writing about atrocity? Not at all. But a work about the Holocaust should necessarily be painful, not inspiring, and should honor the fullness of the loss, not only of individuals but of entire communities. Fortunately for English readers drowning in uplifting Holocaust stories, there exists a work in translation that accomplishes all this. It is Chava Rosenfarb’s The Tree of Life, a panoramic Yiddish-language trilogy about the Lodz Ghetto. To call it a masterpiece would be an understatement. It is the sort of work—long, immersive, engrossing, exquisite—that feels less like reading a book than living a life...The extreme level of detail that Rosenfarb gives to her portrait of Jewish Lodz, its people, and its passions, is itself an enormous achievement, a monument and a memorial to a destroyed community, written in the great (and alas, very long) tradition of Jewish literary lament. Yet The Tree of Life is not a work of testimony, but a work of art, and its power lies in Rosenfarb’s artistic invention. One character, the aspiring teenage poet Rachel Eibushitz, most closely resembles Rosenfarb herself, but this character is simply one of many and hardly the most important. Instead of memoir, Rosenfarb offers true imagination, bringing us into the minds of many different people and rendering even the most despicable figures with the utmost imaginative empathy...we as readers cannot expect the book to uplift us, the way we obscenely expect of every other book about atrocity. Reading this monumental work requires an active commitment. It provides a real service to mankind: It broadens your life beyond your own imagining, allowing your life to include many other lives within it. It brings you down to the deepest level of existence.
  • Jeff Sharlet wrote, "For years after the war and after the camps, Chava Rosenfarb woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to write. She'd open her eyes in the darkness and slip out of bed without waking her husband, make herself a cup of coffee and sit down in her study, still wearing her nightgown. Her study was even smaller than her kitchen—barely large enough for the table she had bought for ten dollars from a doctor's office. On it she kept a stack of notebooks. Sipping her coffee, she'd pick up the top one, and by the light of the table lamp, beneath a portrait of the Yiddish writer I. L. Peretz, review yesterday's stories"

Blume Lempel, Letters (1982-1988) edit

Translated from Yiddish by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

  • I’ve reread your story, “Last Love,” and I want to say again, “Wonderful!” I see it as a breakthrough in Yiddish subject matter—both for its theme and for its refined style.
  • For me you are a person who risks her life to have her say, at the same time remaining entirely feminine.
  • The more I read you, the more I admire your talent, your knowledge, your language. I’m astounded by so much beauty; every sentence is as if carved in marble.
  • The elegance of your language stuns me.

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