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Its Painful to be a Jew
Aug 10, 2004 09:31 PM 16727 Views
(Updated Aug 10, 2004 09:32 PM)



If you thought Schindler’s List was painful, you may just want to hold your opinion. If you think the Pianist was an emotionally harrowing experience, maybe you can still hold your judgment. If you think A Fine Balance was an exhilarating tragic read, perhaps there is just one more book to look ahead.

Stunning, Tragic, Magnetic, Poetic and deeply Emotional – an epic spanning 8 eras, amidst hate, anger, racism, narcissism, barbarism and tragedy, “The Last of the Just” takes an indomitable view of Jew, and the persecution of Jews since time immemorial – From the beginning in 1100s at small town called Auswitch, to the eventual 1943, back to Auswitch, much infamous now for its death chambers.

Powerfully written – at times historical, at times fiction, at times a monologue, at times surreal, at times dreamy, at times romantic, at times biblical, and at times poetic – Last of the Just is a pique journey through a gamut of emotions the principles characters undergo, while the vestibule of suffering, pain and hatred surrounds them with no respite. From the burning of village to “eliminate” Jews in 1100s to Hitler’s final solution, a generation of family (burdened with the lineage, responsibility and the truth of “The Just Man”), view a saga unfold before their eyes of men trying to find their soul.


Who then are these Just Men?

Legend has it that since the killings of Jews in 1110s, there exists 36 Just Men who take upon the world’s suffering to make the world a better place. The Lamed-Vov as they are called are the men who pass on this honor to their heir, and must take immense sadness and suffering for their brethren. The Levy’s of Zemyock are one such family bestowed the truth of being the family of Just Men – each of their lineage in their time fight against hatred, racism and take upon the sufferings of Jews and Jewish Persecution.

However, time with its sardonic taste, begins to haunts the Levy’s until the final generation of Levy’s come to believe in the non-existence of the Just Man themselves. A society mute to the injustice to Jews, the Levy’s struggle to find themselves is more over bearing than their task of taking in the suffering. And yet against all odds, emerges the final, the last Just Man – Ernie Levy - who decides to be that Just Man everyone is waiting for. However the path along is not easy – it’s a painful to be a Jew. Ernie’s journey takes him on the path of self discovery, sense of detachment from society, the ever wait for the god to come and save them, his sense or derangement from reality, and finally to the conviction of being a Just Man.

The Last of the Just is predominantly Ernie’s Journey – from his childhood, to well his youth. Why? Read the book.


~ A few Jew children attending a school predominantly filled with Germans. The German class-teacher brings to front the Jew children, asks them to sing. While each try to sing, their tuneless tune brings rage to the German teacher who kicks them in their stomachs, beats them with a cane, breaks their bones and very nearly kills them. Yet one of them remains solitude.

~ The child remains mute, and yet after beaten black and blue by German teacher is strip naked in front of bullies and beaten more. The humiliation of being a Jew strikes the child in a rather scornful way.

~ He brushes his reality with the sky -What was he when compared to the universe? A miniscule particle of no importance. He then proceeds to crush a fly in his hands – what was the fly? A miniscule particle of no importance in his hand. He goes on to crush a few more to vent his rage. Is this how it was to be a Jew, it dawns on him.

~ 5000 Children, some who don’t even know their names are about reaching the kingdom of heaven. Ruthlessly, they are asked to strip of their belongings – some, don’t even know how to do that too. Stuffed in a train, with space barely to breathe, the children make a journey to land, where there is hope – some don’t even make it out of the train.

~ A handsome couple in the streets of Paris, contemplating whether they love each other. It dawns, they may not have another day alive, so perhaps make the best of the day they have.


Above, is not everyone’s cup of tea – but manage yourself to reach the end that brings about the true essence of the book. The last few lines perhaps will remain well etched in memory for their significance of the events (most events described are real), and more importantly show the author’s personal involvement in the book.

Intricately written, the book arrests you from the beginning – at times heavy and at time humorous even in the sense of tragedy, the epic scope in a matter of less than 350 pages make it a variedly fast moving saga – and yet its slow, haunting and thoughtful.

In all, The Last of the Just is a truly majestic book in all respects – and like “A fine Balance”, it’s a book to be read once. It cannot be read again. But do read it – its majestic, important and supremely satisfying book.

PS: I read somewhere that Steven Spielberg probably should have remade this book into the movie instead of Schindler’s List. It “could” very well have been.


PPS: The review in no way undermines or overbears my feelings for the Jew religion. While it cannot be doubtlessly questioned that Jews were at receiving end of Hitler’s crazy brain, one MUST stop and ponder over others too who lost their lives in the World War II. While most of today’s history tries to place persecution of 6 million Jews as pivotal point of World War II, it must also be remembered that a greater number of Russians (19 million), China (3 million – murdered by gas shells), and India (100,000), along with millions of Polish, French, Africans and others too died fighting the Germans. Hiroshima and Nagasaki may be the zenith reached by the massacre but the lives of 60 million people who died must be thought upon.

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Last of the Just - Andre Schwarz-Bart