Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Censorship



I loved books as a kid, and I have continued loving them to this day. The only thing that I have to thank my parents, I think, is that they never deprived me of reading material. We had books in three languages at home, Yiddish English, and Hebrew (My mother insisted that the latter would help me understand Torah better – I believe that secretly her agenda was for me to be able to write torah insights, as her father did. But that's just speculation). Of course the books were heavily censored, and nothing found its place in the many bookshelves we had, before one of my parents read it – usually my mother.

One of my favorite topics was books on recent History, especially WWII. I was fascinated with how people, of my grandparents' age survived this bitter war, and how the Yiddishe kop outsmarted the Germans.

As I aged, and got my independence, I got to read many books that weren't on their list. To this day I continue to enjoy history, and am enamored with WWII books, but I'm weary of those in print by the 'frum' publishing houses. Not that they are on a worse level than those published by the leading publishers, nor are the topics boring or uninteresting. It's the blatant lack of information that is hampering one to get a full picture of what was going on at the time.

A great book I read as a kid was "Ich Vel Zei Uberleben" (called "Dare to Survive" in English). I loved the author's (or Menachem Mendel's…) sense of humor, although his situation wasn't funny at all. Alas, one thing bothered me even when I read it as a youngster. He hardly ever mentions his wife that was killed, how he felt about it, how come they got separated etc. He does detail his rescue attempts, and success of his young daughter, but only a few passages are devoted to his wife in the entire book. He was closely involved in the rescue of his Rebbe (Belz) and devotes an entire chapter towards his contribution, but his wife is hardly worth a mention.

I don't know the reason for it, perhaps he wanted to cater to the real hiemisher audience (the original edition is in Yiddish) and therefore muted the female account, or perhaps it had to do with his being remarried, I don't know. But the books I have read since are more informative.

The realization came when I read "The Cap". It's a shocking and brutal memoir – even for the non Orthodox standard, but at that time I realized how much information a frum author (or publisher) has to omit from a book in order to render it kosher. Not only references to sex, but violence, or sometimes even something as scandalous as pregnancies are taboo.

When it comes to the Holocaust the best books are those written by heimisher people. It's strikes a cord close to home as my grandparents went through the exact kind of thing. But the censorship is barely bearable.

24 comments:

  1. There are so many things I want to say, but it all just boils down to the desire for the portrayal of a false world, while at the same time expecting adherents to successfully carry out those actions that are not to be mentioned, and to interact with and build a home with, those members of the "fairer sex" that can't even be acknowledged. The whole system just seems to be encouraging the disenchantment of those who are capable of thinking at all.

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  2. Hey Shtreimel,

    I think you're being a bit overzealous here in this case. The simplest explanation of why the author doesn't mention his wife much isn't because he doesn't want to insult the "hemisher" community by mentioning a female-it's simply because he finds it too painful to recount. To detail tales of heroism of saving a Rebbe and his daughter poses no difficulty, as it has a happy ending. But I think you and GGG look for anything, sexist or otherwise, that can be misconstrued to project a false image of Yiddishkeit. I guess it just goes with your territory.

    I've also read many Holocaust books when I was younger, both frum and non frum, and of course I've found topics that are not mentioned in the frum books, e.g rape, extreme violence, sex, and (strange as this may sound during the war) masturbation in the secular books. Obviously you won't find these subject matters in frum books, and if you disagree as to why not, that's a whole different discussion. They don't go into the same category as one's wife who was killed. Personally, I can't read these books anymore-I've read so much on it and now I find them too painful and depressing.

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  3. I vividly remember my shock when I read Eli Wiesel's description of sex in the cattle car.

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  4. Oh my! I went to look for the passage in the book Night that I remember so vividly and found that it has been censored--in the Oprah book club edition!

    Original translation:

    After two days of traveling, we began to be tortured by thirst. Then the heat became unbearable.

    Free from all social restraint, the young people gave way openly to instinct, taking advantage of the darkness to copulate in our midst, without caring about anyone else, as though they were alone in the world. The rest pretended not to notice anything.

    We still had a few provisions left.


    Oprah edition:

    After two days of travel, thirst became intolerable, as did the heat.

    Freed of normal contraints, some of the young let go of their inhibitions and, under the cover of darkness, caressed one another, without any thought of others, alone in the world. The others pretended not to notice.

    There was still some food left.


    Could be translation issue, but I doubt it.

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  5. Seems it's a known issue:

    Other alterations in the new edition, Ms. Wiesel said, include a change to a description of furtive sexual activity by some of the young prisoners as they traveled to Auschwitz in a cattle car. Ms. Wiesel said the original English translation used the word "copulate," a reference that was changed in later printings to "flirt." In the new translation, the youths "caressed one another."

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  6. Oh dear, David.

    You might be over-zealous here looking for reason why GGG or I, or whomever care about censorship.

    There is no denying that books are heavily censored in our community. If you need me to provide examples you are either not familiar with it, or you’re willing to lie. Just Google the “Making of a Godol” or read Ruchama Shein’s All for the Boss’s first edition, then compare it with the Hebrew one (or even the later English editions, if I’m not mistaken). It’s not just “rape, extreme violence, sex, and...masturbation” that is deliberately absent.

    The example I used was worse than censorship in a way, it’s how the author omits certain info because of reasons “unknown”, but quite likely silly, pedantic reasons. Although, you might be right that in this instance the author felt it was too painful to relive those moments, more painful than losing his bothers, sisters, parent, and everything else he had in his life.

    I used it because after reading this book I mentioned, I realized the contrast between the styles of the CSI/Artscroll/Feldheim publishers to the non-frum publishing houses. Of course, this is not the first instance. Most notably, how the Gdolim must be shed in a light that does not reflect their real selves. Which might be why I haven’t read a ‘godol’ autobiography in ages. It’s just way too boring.

    By the way, Friedman's book in it's Yiddish version (the only one I read) is highly recommended. It is very well written and it gives you a feel of how these people felt then.

    Mis-nagid,
    So Oprah should convert, you’re saying? I guess the frummies are not the only ones to censor. However, I can’t imagine a book on George Washington to full of phrases loved by the kind of books I read as a kid.

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  7. I would think the death of one's wife might be a little painful and lead to leaving it more aside than not, especially if the author fell that he let her down and felt that he might have saved her, even though in reality he bears no responsibility.

    As far as books on the experience of those who were headed for death, I never have read too many but I did get the vivid picture from my grandfather of the aftermath found by American soldiers... the sights, the smells, the people too gaunt and near death and too brutalized to raise their voices, hollow looks...

    Since I was a small small child. I'll have to take a look at some of them. Maybe some time you can post a good list and the languages in which they are available.

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  8. On the general subject of books about the Holocaust, there are so so so many that I think Jews should read and should give to their children to mull over as well. These books are hellish to read but the hell that they tell us about is worthy of crying over. Off the top of my head I'd like to recommend the following books very highly. Bear in mind that I'm only recommending books that I consider to be of the highest caliber:

    Treblinka, The Unconquerable Spirit (the earlier versions are uncensored), Perfidy, The Last of the Just, Sparks of Glory, The Survivor of the Holocaust, Night - my God, there are so many! I personally have read but a handful of books from cover to cover - a handful, yet look how many Holocaust books I've read from cover to cover. and multiple times. And I'm only mentioning those that effected me so strongly that I recommend they be entered into the Jewish canon for every Jewish heart.

    Oh, no doubt there are others, but it's been a while since I've pored over these volumes. My my, not to mention the hours spent with survivors themselves. From my paternal grandmother who spent the years on the run, to her husband who was granted hospitality in Stalin's camps, to my maternal grandmother who lost practically her entire family in Auschwitz and who could never seem to see life from a perspective other than the one that she had experienced there, to her husband whose wife and children were murdered and who was a starved and beaten slave to the Germans for close to half a decade. On to the old and lonely Jews whom I visited in Old Age Homes around the world who each had their own horrors. The man whose two year old was killed before his eyes. The man whose best friend was placed in a barrel of water head-first before all of his friends for Nazi entertainment (my aged friend saved his chaver's life and went on to attend that chaver's grandson's wedding). Etc, etc. My God, does my blood boil!

    I stand with the anonymous yid in the shul in Warsaw (I believe it was in Warsaw) who's final testament was immortalized in the black and white photograph that offers his final cry, written in his own blood: "Yidden, Nekamah!!"

    Ashrei Sheyeshaleim Lach Es Gemuleich...

    mnuez
    www.mnuez.blogspot.com

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  9. You are raising a very common phenomenon of our community. Wether, it's applicaple to this case or not is not my point. You are touching upon a very sensitive botton: The artificial, yet deliberate ignorance from anything that has a feminine smell.
    Goinggoinggone(nice name..lol)has put it so good that I don't know if I can do it better.In one hand they MUST interact with the "fairy sex"(and not as much for the sex asinmuch for their obssession to prodcue the largest possible number of kids,depending on the capacity of HER womb),and yet in the other hand,
    they act as if we, women don't even exist.
    This system perfectly suits the 'kol kvoda bat melech pnima'idea: Stay home ladies, it's YOUR place. that's where YOU BELONG. The external world is reserved for the higher society, men. They may drive,but not you, women. You should remain HOME.When you must go on the street, be sure to veil your head/ hair/ body/ being/ soul....cover your existense with as much layers as one's body may hold while maintaining balance and equilibrium. No makeup, no perfume, no this, no that. Don't walk before men (of course, it's their property!)don't raise your voice, be quiet. In short: pretend that you don't exist!
    Isn't this what they want us to do?

    All of this aims at serving one sole and holy purpose: protecting the advanced gender(men)from the poison of arrousal.God forbid women should attract the holy men. They must constantly be safely secured under the shelter of "it does not exist". This is so NAIVE.

    Some of you may argue and go on and on with long and detailed explenation as of WHY it is necessary for our community to protect men.
    Well, guess what? I have already gone my entire life through the long bla blabla....
    But if you really wish to be honest, ask yourself if our community is any safer than other communities? All you need to do is read some of the blogs produced by members of our FRUM society.Wake up, people, it occurs globally.It happens everywhere. We are not immuned despite of those restrictions!

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  10. Shtreimel, Shtreimel, Shtreimel...

    Not once did I ever mention Jewish books are not censored. I merely said you were going overboard in this case. Read the first sentence and paragraph in my original post slowly and carefully.

    I didn't address censorship in frum literature, contrary to your accusations, because I don't know enough about it. I won't take anyone's word for it, pro or con, until I see it for myself. I certainly won't take yours.

    I won't voice an opinion on what I didn't investigate, and I'll admit it. Let's see if you can admit you were way off base in your retort, or if you'll "spin" what you meant to say to save face.

    Not only did you prove yourself to misconstrue anything to further your agenda as I wrote about you in the last two sentences in the first paragraph of my post, but you also showed yourself to be "trigger happy" and not able to comprehend what others who differ with you on some points are saying.

    Take care!

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  11. Oy David, what did I do to deserve this?

    I simply reiterated what I had already said in the post.

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  12. wow Rabanit. I am so saddened to hear this. I am having my own struggles (social stuff) in the frum community.

    I sure hope Jews build themselves with confidence and step up to the plate rather than hide.

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  13. When I was in eighth grade, we had to write a book report of some sort. A student wanted to write one on Night, but the teacher told him that he couldn’t, because in the past a different parent complained about it. When I heard that, I immediately got the book from the library. Of course, at the time, I do not think I knew what the word “copulate” meant, and it went completely above me. I hadn’t realized Weisel wrote that until Mis-nagid pointed it out.

    On a separate matter, I am surprised that the chassidish bloggers haven’t posted commentary on the Spinka Rebbe’s arrest. How is the community dealing with the prospect of a Rebbe in jail? Will it cause soul-searching? Fear, that in light of the PATRIOT Act, there is more oversight of money laundering? Will the Chassidim conclude that they cannot trust people who are frum but not chassidish not to masser? Will it change actual business practices?

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  14. Vagen,
    Plenty of erliche yidden have found themselves at the brink of jail. Are you telling me that the Spinke Rebbe should have more significance than Avigdor Jakobowitz? He is a 'rebbe' and might even have some Chasidim but he's not in the big leagues.

    It's sad that he has to go through all of this, as it's saddening that he allegedly did what he's accused of.

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  15. GoingGoingGone said:"The whole system just seems to be encouraging the disenchantment of those who are capable of thinking at all."

    So you xgh Little Foxling, BHB and the other 15 "sheptics" are the only ones capable of thinking? I think your beloved jeans are a little too tight, but then again nashim daatan kalot....

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  16. And I think, SDR, that you're basing a whole lot on the "15" skeptics that you know, when in fact, I can attest to many more I know in real life.

    Actually, of all the people I know, who dwelled on these issues, there are more skeptics than conformers. It's not scientific, and might not be a true sample, but it sure negates your premise.

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  17. So someone else read this book besides me? It was quite a book. I used to read it every year on Tisha B'av.

    I too had some qualms while reading it, but then felt guilty about 'who am i to judge him. walk a mile in his shoes first.'

    At first i thought: how could he abandon his family? But then realized that there was no hope. And then he takes the baby! Would I have done that? That must have been such a strong feeling of love.

    The other point was all the shenanagins he had to do to survive. Fully understandable in that context, but it feels that in many parts of the orthodox world, those habits did not go away so easily......

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  18. Our middle of the road yeshiva day school's 8th grade English teacher (non-religious Jewish guy) assigned Night every year, with nary a complaint. Surprising, more regarding the 'apikorsus' in it.

    As a frum kid, my reaction to the copulating in the cattle car paragraph (first i had to look up the word ;) was "Oy Vey! On the brink of death and still no Teshuva, and the opposite, having sex in public! Oy vey!" Ahhhh to be young, believing and naive!

    We grew up being taught that the non-religous behaviour of European jewry caused the Holocaust. And here, in the midst of the Holocaust, more 'bad' behaviour. No wonder Hashem didn't stop the Nazis. That was my thinking in those days, Rachmana Litzlan!

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  19. Good points DO.

    When I grew up this was the only good book in Yiddish that dealt with the Holocaust. Everyone read it. :)

    I never judged him. He risked his life more than once to save his daughter. All I'm saying that when it comes to his wife the picture is sketchy. There might be many reasons why it is so, it just struck me as odd, is all.

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  20. That's what is so wonderful about literature: No two people read the same book the same way! Shkuyach.

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  21. I suppose I'm curious as to why you say the best Holocaust books or memoirs are by frummies. Better how?

    Or do you mean you relate to them better?

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  22. FY,
    Absolutely. I, as a frum person (socially), relate to books by 'heimisher' more than the others.

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  23. SDR,
    a) kala, not kalot
    b) your shovanism stinks
    c) its ok, because such a response is typically exhibited when there is nothing else of quality to contribute. Is your mind capable of thinking at all? I wonder.

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  24. Sounds like an interesting book! Maybe his wife was still too painful a subject to write about? Just a thought. I agree with David on that.

    So what DOESN'T the Mighty Oprah water down? I have an allergy to all things 'popular', for that reason. Oprah included.

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