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The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart

The Last of the Just (1959)

by André Schwarz-Bart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (9)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
...the ancient Jewish tradition of the Lamed-Vov, a tradition that certain Talmudists trace back to the source of the centuries, to the mysterious time of the prophet Isaiah. Rivers of blood have flowed, columns of smoke have obscured the sky, but surviving all these dooms, the tradition has remained inviolate down to our own time. According to it, the world reposes upon thirty-six Just Men, the Lamed-Vov, indistinguishable from simple mortals; often they are unaware of their station. But if just one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed-Vov are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs.

I have read many novels, memoirs, and histories about the Holocaust, but this may be the most literary that I've encountered. It is beautifully written and weaves history, legend, and religion into a fascinating story about the transference of the Just Man from one generation to the next within the Levy family, culminating in the life and death of Ernie Levy. The story begins with the horrific tales of Rabbi Yom Tov Levy and his progeny who suffered death and martyrdom over and over throughout the centuries in most of the countries of Europe. It is a seemingly endless cycle of persecution bringing us into the present with the story of Ernie's grandfather, Mordecai.

As an adolescent, Mordecai was forced to leave the shtetl of Zemyock, Poland and hire himself out as a farm hand in order to keep his parents and siblings from starvation. They would rather starve, because to the Hasidic Levy family, nothing is worth turning from the study of God. Furthermore, on every job, Mordecai is forced to fight in order to establish his place in the hierarchy. Eventually, he becomes an itinerant peddler and meets and falls in love with a fiery young woman named Judith. Although his family doesn't approve of her, eventually Mordecai and Judith settle in Zemyock and raise a family. Finally, Mordecai is able to devote himself to religious study.

Their oldest son, Benjamin, doesn't seem to fit the bill as the next Just Man. He is skinny and small with a large head, unlike his three more robust younger brothers, and Mordecai fairly ignores him. A vicious pogrom forces Benjamin to leave Zemyock and move to Germany, where things seem much safer than in Eastern Europe. Ah, do you see the shadow of destiny falling? Benjamin becomes a tailor and eventually earns enough to bring his parents to live with him and soon his wife. Completely cowed by the headstrong Judith, Fraulein Leah Blumenthal is the mother to a large brood of children, yet remains naive and impotent of power.

And so we come to Ernie, neither the oldest or youngest, small and unassuming, but possessed of an undeniably sensitive soul. Nurtured and protected by his family, especially the patriarch Mordecai, Ernie nonetheless suffers from the growing Nazi presence in Stillenstadt. The story of his childhood is sweet and horrible and a window into the suffering of Jewish children in 1930's Germany. Ernie's innocence is gnawed away until he is only a shell filled with despair and hopelessness. As a young man he wanders, believing himself to be nothing more than the dog the Nazi's have labeled him. The story of his redemption in Paris and his ultimate fate, I will leave you to discover, but needless to say, as a Just Man, Ernie's destiny is not an easy one.

I loved the language of this book, although it is not an easy read emotionally. The author writes beautifully of the tortures of a sensitive soul, affinity with nature, the trials of childhood relationships, and the bleakness of losing your way in life. And arching over all of this, humanity, lies the Holocaust. It's as awful as you might imagine, but even worse is the idea you are left with. What if we have murdered the Last Just Man? To what brink have we brought ourselves spiritually, and is it possible to recover?

Highly recommended. ( )
10 vote labfs39 | Sep 7, 2013 |
This is a very sad, but true partial history of the Jews until the Holocaust. Schwarz-Bart kept my interest, but i would have preferred no magic realism. he follows one family for centuries, and ends with ernie, a lamed vovnek, murdered in the holocaust. ( )
  suesbooks | Aug 29, 2012 |
Powerful and moving. The journey through the generations is exhilirating. The outcome just heartbreaking. A beautiful book you will remember. ( )
  Polaris- | Jan 24, 2011 |
Best book ever written about the Holocaust! ( )
  niksarm | Jan 15, 2011 |
The first third of the book is dedicated to the Levy family’s ancestry, an ancestry filled with legendary Lamed-Vovniks throughout the generations. The reader is shown how they have martyred themselves in the name of suffering for mankind. The last two-thirds of the book concerns itself with one person, and his name is Ernie. We watch Ernie grow from a child into a man, and through overwhelming imagery, see him suffer for mankind during the Holocaust.

Antisemitism runs rampant throughout the pages, from one son to the next, each holy man is faced with their own set of trials and tribulations. The reader is shown how the Eastern and Western European Jewish community has paid a price for over 800 years, the years since the eleventh century through the Holocaust. Jewish persecution has had its roots dug deep into the earth throughout the ages. As a cultural and historical resource The Last of the Just is invaluable. It gives the reader an awareness of how antisemitism has steadfastly taken hold throughout the centuries, without a let up. ( )
1 vote LorriMilli | Mar 22, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
"Den siste rettferdige" tok franske lesere med storm da den kom ut i 1959, og forfatteren mottok den høythengende Goncourt-prisen (sensasjonelt for en debutroman).

En gammel jødisk legende forteller at det i hvert slektledd må finnes 36 rettferdige, som skal påta seg slektens byrder og sikre dens fortsettelse. Handlingen begynner i York i året 1185, med en pogrom i en aldri avsluttet serie av pogromer. Nærmere vår egen tid er det Ernie Levy – bokens hovedperson – som fullfører historien. Han blir "den siste rettferdige" idet han elendig, men verdig møter døden i gasskammeret, som den siste i slekten Levy. Året er 1943. Ernie har i hele sitt kortvarige liv tatt lidelsene inn over seg med en nesten mystisk ro. Golda, hans unge elskede, blir hans vei inn i den store kjærligheten og det store offeret. Hans skjebne, blant seks millioner andre, blir et symbolsk martyrium, der det ubegripelige får et skjær av forsoning og skjønnhet. I seg selv et mysterium.

Den siste rettferdige kom på norsk første gang i 1960.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Schwarz-Bart, Andréprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Becker, StephenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riva, ValerioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schalekamp, Jean A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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How am I to toll your death,
How may I mark your obsequies,
Vagabond handful of ashes
Between heaven and earth?

M. Jaztrun, The Obsequies.
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Our eyes register the light of dead stars.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0689703651, Paperback)

According to Jewish tradition, 36 "just men" are born in every generation to take the burden of the world's suffering upon themselves. This book tells the story of two Jews, divided by eight centuries, who are persecuted to death, becoming part of the catastrophic history of the Jewish people.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:49 -0400)

Published in sixteen languages and winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt, Andre Schwarz-Bart's The Last of the Just is considered by many the single greatest novel of the Holocaust. This classic work -- long unavailable in a trade edition -- is one of those few novels that, once read, is never forgotten.On March 11, 1185, tn the old Anglican city of York, the Jews of the city were brutally massacred by their townsmen. As legend has it, God blessed the only survivor of this Medieval pogrom, Rabbi Yom Tov Levy, as one of the Lamed-vov, the thirty-six Just Men of Jewish tradition, a blessing which extended to one Levy of each succeeding generation. This terrifying and remarkable Legacy is traced over eight centuries, from the Spanish Inquisition, to expulsions from England, France, Portugal Germany, and Russia, and to the small Polish village of Zemyock, where the Levys settle for two centuries in relative peace. It is in the twentieth century that Ernie Levy emerges, the Last of the Just, in 1920s Germany, as Hitter's sinister star is on the rise and the agonies of Auschwitz loom on the horizon.… (more)

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