A brief, intriguing memoir, by an Israeli kibbutznik, of the early years of the Nazi regime, which he witnessed as an adolescent, interspersed with accounts of his postwar struggle to come to terms with Germany and gain restitution. Tamir begins by recalling his sense of rootedness in Germany: He and his peers were as likely to sing songs of the Thirty Years' War as Zionist melodies. Indeed, his family's Jewishness was highly attenuated; his father never spoke of his East European origins and his parents observed few of the religious rituals. Yet anti- Semitism was pervasive, both pre- and post-Hitler. Particularly interesting are Tamir's descriptions of life in rural Germany in the 1930s. After his father lost his cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Tamir left home, taking a job with a sympathetic gardener. He was deported to Poland in 1938, later entering Palestine illegally. His style here is highly associative, flowing backward and forward in time and across space between Germany and Israel. Vignettes in Germany spark off memories of Palestine shortly before and during Israel's War of Independence, when Tamir's kibbutz was besieged. Like many idealistic German Jews in Israel, Tamir is sensitive to the way in which Jewish settlers, many of them driven from Europe, displaced some Israeli and Palestinian Arabs. But his attempts to weave together the passages on Israel and Germany don't quite work; the former seem more truncated and less satisfying, in terms of dramatic narrative, than the latter. Returning to postwar Germany, he encounters some predictable complacency and denial about the Holocaust, as well as some surprises. Among them: a hyper-rational German bureaucrat who, although she initially appears rigid about restitution regulations, turns out to be struggling with a sense of responsibility for Nazism and its Jewish victims. Tamir's taut, disturbing memoir derives much of its power from such stereotype-shattering individuals. A thoughtful, gripping work.
Read full book review >