EMBATTLED SELVES by Kenneth Jacobson


An Investigation into the Nature of Identity Through Oral Histories of Holocaust Survivors
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 A dramatic exploration of varying degrees of Jewish identity espoused, concealed, or denied by 15 Holocaust survivors during and after the war. Jacobson, a writer and editor in Washington DC, interviewed more than 280 Holocaust survivors from several countries. The oral histories are 90% narration, broken only occasionally by editorial additions for clarity. Dutchman Maurits Hirsch survived by assuming the identity of a Christian, becoming the mayor of a small town in the process. While he was a dutiful civil servant for the Nazis, he actively assisted the underground and later was able to return to the observant Judaism he had practiced before the war. German Gabriel Ritter, on the other hand, abandoned the religion of his boyhood after acting so well as an Aryan for several years that he ``actually felt like a non-Jew.'' Ritter later went on to a career on the stage. Rev. David Kornbluth of Holland was, even before the war, a devout Hebrew-Christian, and he remained one, confusing everyone but himself. Czech Hilda Dujardin had every right to call herself an Aryan, having but one Jewish grandfather, yet she volunteered to have the life-threatening ``J'' stamped on her ID card, as this was a ``time to take my stand as a Jew.'' Frenchman Etienne Lenoir, however, found it a ``heavy burden to be bound to people [Jews] with whom [he] had no bonds.'' Also trapped in his Jewish body is a Romanian named Romulus, whose circumcised penis nearly kept him from earning the handsome German auxiliary uniform he needed to survive. But only by displaying this same mark did he avoid execution by liberating Russians who didn't believe he was a Jew in disguise. The author guides us in analyzing patterns and changes in the narrators' journeys into the self, but he doesn't interfere with our own interactions with these remarkable lives. This poignant and provocative book goes beyond its historical setting to get to the heart of why people do or don't identify with ethnic, national, or religious groups.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-87113-571-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994