OF BLOOD AND HOPE by Samuel Pisar


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Samuel Pisar--Auschwitz inmate, teenage black-marketeer, Harvard LL.D., international lawyer and consultant--offers up his life ""of blood and hope"" as a lesson to the world. There is vainglory in this (""I, the speck of dust blown in from the trashcans of Europe, was putting words into the mouth of the American President""), as well as the particular pride--or presumptuousness--of the unvanquished Jew. Pisar is twelve when the Nazis occupy his native Bialystok and sort out the Jews: in short pants, his mother concludes, he will stay with her; in long pants, he might pass as a man--and he does. ""Could my mother have sensed. . . that a young man able to perform physical labor for the Nazis had a better chance of surviving than a child classed as useless. . . ?"" (Can the rich, today, impose ""triage"" on the poor?) At Maidanek, manifestly a death camp, a call goes out for tailors; and Pisar, son of a tailor's landlord, puts himself forward as a buttonhole maker--on the basis that ""wherever tailors were needed, buttonhole makers were needed too."" (Has the West, today, lost the ""will to survive""?) He meets up again with blunt, earthy Ben, from Bialystok, and the two make friends with sardonic strongman Niko--thereafter, Pisar's talismans. In post-liberation West Germany, ""our camp-learned guile"" equips the triumvirate with motorcycles, women, and G.I. supplies; and when they're thrown into jail, Pisar protests to UNNRA being imprisoned with Krupp. A cousin comes from Paris to redeem the vagrant child. Two uncles, emigrated to Australia, provide passage for Pisar and for Ben. (Niko, doggedly, will not be saved.) Pisar softens up, reads Great Books, graduates from college the model of an English gentleman. Then, at Harvard on a fellowship, he is overwhelmed--until he recalls the prisoner at Maidanek's gruff ""Do you want to eat that soup or do you want to croak?"" The rest of the story--the book's second half--is mostly self-celebration and exhortation as Pisar, a specialist in East-West trade, recounts his triumphs at international conclaves, drops famous names, and argues for ""economic integration"" instead of ""political confrontation."" One incident, however, stands out: Pisar, at a star-studded 1961 confab in Kiev, alone talking back to the Russians, not as an international wheeler-dealer but as an aggrieved Jew--and unwittingly, to his later regret, linking ""improved economic relations and respect for human rights."" No guiding light, then; but, inescapably, the dynamism of a giant ego.

Pub Date: May 13th, 1980
Publisher: Little, Brown