Updated: Feb 23, 2022
Part 1: Email from Judith Jernow
Dear Gelya, and Fellow Schmoozers,
So sorry to be missing the Chava discussion. Any chance you are recording it? Please let me know if you do. I’d love to hear others' reactions. This is such an insightful group and such a great set of books.
I believe Andrea has told you about this event in Santa Barbara that we need to attend where her husband, Bud, is being honored—unfortunately just at the time of the discussion.
I am lost in admiration for the saga Chava has written so brilliantly. Her characters are so real, so individualized and even those who are caricatures like Aaron Rosenberg--and that fabulous scene with the secretary and his dog in the first book--come across as real people full of pathos.
I found Esther and and her romance with her communist lover absolutely gripping. These are unforgettable characters.
I think David’s notes and the letter writing by the doctor Michal Levine to his fiancé in Paris work as a welcome variety and relief to the narrative, giving other points of view than those said from the writer's third-person omniscient viewpoint. As a reader, one feels awful for him getting no replies but continuing to write to her. Chava’s many characters and their relationships give the reader a real sense of what it was like to live in that unfortunate city of Lodz and others in Poland at that time.
Sadly I began to have nightmares and had to leave off reading Book II when I could see —without much imagination--the correspondence between events, people and politics akin to those arising here in our own country at this time. It is truly frightening to see these parallels when one realizes how quickly certain ideas, misinformation, and war can leap from germs of ideas to full blown catastrophe in short order. I‘ve lost a lot of sleep. Perhaps now is the time to get terrified.
Rumkowski ’s transfiguration from head of an orphanage to head of the Jewish Council of Elders of the Lodz ghetto blew me away. Including how his rise in position was reported through Rosenfarb's description of the chauffeured buggy ride that he takes while everyone else marches to the ghetto on foot.
Another scene I loved--looking back to Book I--was the one that takes place between the impoverished carpenter Itche Mayer's son, Shalom, and the wealthy industrialist Samuel Zuckerman. Their brilliantly drawn conversation at the beginning of the trilogy shows Zuckerman venturing into the courtyard in Baluty where Shalom, in the cellar apartment, lay ill. It is where Zuckerman, his family, their servant, friends and business associates would themselves be imprisoned when Baluty becomes the ghetto.
Please do share these comments and impressions with the group.
Part 2: View or Listen to the Discussion
If you missed the discussion of Book II, you can view or listen to it on the blog post titled Rosenfarb's Tree of Life Trilogy for the upcoming discussion on 4/23/2022. Participants included Gelya, Haim Dov, Alexis, Leah and Doris.
Part 3: The Transcript
A few excerpts of the (mostly) uncorrected Zoom transcript of the Book II discussion are posted below.
Leah: I will say that was an exhausting read I could only read about 20 to 25 pages an hour of that book. So it took me forever to get through because I was so captured by the language.
Alexis: I mean I found all the, the detail not excessive at all been fascinated because she's like did all the research that anybody would need if they want to do a mini series it's all there right in front of you.
Haim: Yeah, I'd like to talk about the question that I was intrigued by and that also came up in Andrea's comments namely, what the author's goals are here, and what ought to be. The goals of writing about horrific human events, and history. . . . This book is not just dealing with, with traumatic events in history it's also dealing with the resilience of the human emotions that come up. You know someone starts writing poetry. There, you know so that it's not, it's not just dealing with traumatic events are so there's a huge range and the range itself is fascinating. I think about how this book will read in about 150 years. Sort of like, how does Warren Piece [Ed. War and Peace] read today. I mean, we're so distant from the events of the
Russian war, but it is for me it is the most clear entry into what that was emotionally. I mean it's certainly in a style that was [inaudible] but this book reads like a book to the future of how to think about what happened during 1941-1942.
Gelya: I think one of the most powerful things that Andrea says in her piece, that people wanted to believe that although these things were happening that they were going to survive and it was temporary. And if that's valid in terms of a true portrait of the general mood of what people carried with them during that time, then that's a profound.
Haim: So from my perspective. This is all very important conversation, but I think it's in some ways to sidestep the novel. And I sort of want us to talk about what she's written with the understanding that I haven't read the third volume.
And I apologize, because I've experienced exactly what Leah did. I could only read 20 to 25 pages of the most. . . . So, sort of as a technical answer [about what happened in the period between September 1, 1939 and June 20, 1941, most scholars believe that that is the period of time in which the highest height of mass killing has not yet begun book ends at those dates.
The mobile gas killing unit. . . That's one of the first mass killing apparatus, but most of the Jews were killed in various places--depending on what the train situation was--in either Treblinka or Auschwitz. And that didn't happen until after Book II of this novel. We've just passed the whatever number anniversary of the Wannsee conference, which was in January of 1942. And that's the first documentary evidence of the administrative division of how the Jews were to be killed. A written document, but that process had already been done in March or April, before operation Barber Rosa [Barbarosa], on June 21, 1941.
So Auschwitz was relatively new . . .the major killing camps, Treblinka. . . there are six of them. . . had just begun to function. Those are called the Reinhart killing camps. And that's where about. . . I'm speaking in round numbers. . . about three and a half to four million of the six million Jews were killed.