Friday, April 30, 2010


Beginning with "The Diary of Anne Frank", I have read many novels over the years that dealt with the Jewish situation during World War II - the Jews who were in hiding, those who were saved by Schindler, those who died in concentration camps, those who survived the camps.

But I haven't really read any books about the Jews who arrived in Palestine, their "Promised Land", after the war. "Exodus" does deal with some refugees, but it focuses on the sabras (those born in Israel) and their fight to win statehood for Israel. "Ship of Fools" and "The Lambs' War" related the tales of the Jews' struggle to get to Palestine.

"Day After Night", however, begins when a group of refugees arrives in country. I had no idea that new arrivals in Palestine were held in camps by the British until they were parceled out to kibbutzes. Those who were concentration camp inmates again have to face the horror of barbed wire fences and captors. The frightened survivors think the Delousing Shed is actually a shower room cum gas chamber like those in the camps and are naturally terrified to enter. 

Anita Diamant, who wrote the excellent "The Red Tent", tells the refugees' story by means of four women: angry Shayndel, a Polish Zionist and freedom fighter; beautiful Frenchwoman Leonie, who was an unwilling prostitute for the Nazis in Paris; blonde, Aryan-looking Tedi, a Dutch Jew who had been in hiding; and Zorah, a concentration camp survivor.  Some, like Shayndel, have had the goal of immigrating to Palestine for years, while others end up on her shores by accident, apathy or the winds of fate.

Slowly the girls form tentative friendships, gain weight from the abundant food, begin to be interested in their appearance and the men in the adjacent camp, and start to think that they might just be able to lead semi-normal lives again. Even the concentration camp survivors start to come alive again.

The only fault I would find with this excellent book is how willing and unfazed the four women are when they learn they are to be separated and sent to different settlements. It seems to me that this tearing apart of friends who had lost so many other people in their lives would shatter the fragile peace they have worked so hard - and finally begun - to achieve.

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