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Gouri, Haim

GOURI, Haim

Nationality: Israeli. Born: Tel-Aviv, 9 October 1923. Education: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1950-52, B.A. 1952;Sorbonne University, Paris, 1953. Military Service: Palmach (later Israeli Defense Forces), 1941-49: worked in Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia among Jews who survived the Holocaust, Summer 1947; Israel's War of Independence: infantry officer, Negev Brigade; Israeli Defense Forces: reserve officer, Six-Day War, 1967, and officer, armored regiment in the Sinai, Yom Kippur War, 1973. Family: Married in 1952; three daughters. Career: Columnist, La Merchav, 1954-70. Since 1970 senior writer, Davar. Writer-in-residence, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1993; visiting professor, Hebrew College, Boston, 1998. Created, with others, documentary film trilogy about the Holocaust, 1974-83. Awards: Usishkin prize, 1963, for Flowers of Fire; Sokolov prize, 1964, for Facing the Glass Cage; Bialik prize, 1975, for Gehazi's Visions; Israel Composers' and Writers' Association prize, 1979; Israel prize for poetry, 1988; Neuman prize, 1994, for The One Who Comes after Me; Municipality of Jerusalem Uri Zvi Greenberg award, 1998, for body of poetry. D.Litt.: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 1999. Member: Hebrew Writers' Association. Agent: Hayim Goldgraber & Associates, P.O. Box 600443, Newtonville, Massachusetts 02460, U.S.A.

Publications

Collections

'Ad kav nesher, 1949-1975. 1975.

Various Poems, with Stanley F. Chyet. 1985.

Heshbon 'over: Mivhar shirim, 1945-1987 [Selected Poems,1945-1987]. 1988.

Words in My Lovesick Blood/Milim be-dami ha-holeh ahavah, edited by Stanley F. Chyet (English and Hebrew). 1996.

Ha-Shirim [Collected Poems]. 1998.

Poetry

Pirhe esh [Flowers of Fire]. 1949.

'Ad 'alot ha-shahar [Until Dawn]. 1950.

Shire hotam [Sealed Poems]. 1954.

Shoshanat ruhot [The Wind Rose]. 1960.

Tenuah le-maga [Movement to Touch]. 1968.

Mar'ot Gehazi [Gehazi's Visions]. 1974.

Ayumah [Fearsome]. 1979.

Mahberot Elul [Notebooks of Elul]. 1985.

Ha-Ba aharai [The One Who Came after Me]. 1994.

Novels

'Iskat ha-shokolad (novella). 1964; as The Chocolate Deal, 1968.

"Ha-Sefer ha-meshuga'" ["The Crazy Book"]. 1971.

Ha-Hakirah: Sipur Re'u'el [The Investigation: Reuel]. 1980.

Short Stories

Dapim yerushalmiyim. 1958.

Mi makir et Yosef G'? [Who Knows Joseph G?]. 1980.

Reshimot mi-bet ha-yayin [Notes from the Tavern]. 1991.

Other

Mul ta ha-zekhukhit: Mishpat Yerushalayim [The Glass Booth:The Jerusalem Trial]. 1962.

Ahad 'asar sipure ahavah: Sheloshim shanah la-'aliyat 11 hayishuvim ba-Negev. 1976.

Jericho/Yeriho (English and Hebrew). 1983.

*

Critical Study:

"From the Naive to the Nostalgic in the Poetry of Haim Gouri" by Reuven Shoham, in Prooftexts, 18(1), January 1998, pp. 19-43.

Theatrical Activities: Director: Documentary Films—

The 81st Blow; The Last Sea, 1945-1948, 1979; Pi ha-mered/Fire in the Ashes, 1986.

* * *

It is without question that Haim Gouri's Holocaust canon represents one of the capstone achievements in the response of modern Hebrew poetry to the European calamity. One of the first to tackle in verse the horrendous crimes, the native born Gouri was a member of the Palmach, the commando unit of the Jewish Defense Forces, from 1941 to 1949, later serving as an officer in the 1948 war of liberation. In 1947 the Israel prize laureate (1988) was sent by the Haganah to Europe to assist in the smuggling of Holocaust survivors from displaced persons camps into Palestine. In this connection it is noteworthy that this deep change was reflected in the author's semiautobiographical book The Investigation : Reuel (1980), a clear case of art imitating life. Framed through the perspective of the author's alter ego, the book tells the dramatic story of a young Sabre who is plunged into war-torn Europe and his life-altering encounters with the survivors that immediately shake his Zionist ethos to its foundations.

Central to any elaboration is the realization that more than anything else it was this distressing encounter with the remnants of the Shoah that transformed Gouri, stirring his soul and rupturing the patina of the Holocaust myth held by his generation and the stereotypic picture eclipsing public perception as promoted by the state. As should be made clear, since that day Gouri, the paragon of the culture of memory, has been resolute in repudiating any attempt to erase the experiential damage and trauma, although he possesses no intimate knowledge and has lost no relatives to the Final Solution, integrating and expounding upon the pain of the victims through a continual remembrance and reiteration of that loss. Most important, Gouri's work exemplifies an attempt to undermine and deconstruct predominant Israeli national assumptions about the polarization between Israeli nature and Jewish nature and to correct the blinkered vision that the Jews of Europe went like sheep to the slaughter or, worse, were actually responsible for their own fate. In his monumental and best-known poem Inheritance (1960), for example, Gouri uses the Akedah narrative as an all-purpose metaphor for the fate of the Jewish people, who, in contrast to the biblical Isaac, are left with a knife embedded in their heart. In a nod to Job, Gouri revolts against the God who has turned away from his children.

The poet's engagement with the Holocaust has taken the form of various collections, including Flowers of Fire (1949), Until Dawn (1950), The Wind Rose (1960), and The Notebooks of Elul (1985), that declaim explicitly that memory and its preservation have not dimmed and are aflame with empathy and identification. Towering above the poems is a sense of the great pain of Jewish history embodied in the lingering echoes of the dead that permeates the entire fabric. Gouri deploys a contemporary young hero, á la Joseph Campbell, who roams through post-Nazi Europe. Journeying through this Dantean hell, he encounters the blazing hate of the murderers and the collaborators that still reverberates through this foreign land that now encases within its midst the footprints of the past. The poet's thematic matrix foregrounds the cities, rivers, churches, and wintry snow of Europe that epitomize the terrible desolation and agony that still studs this landscape. The young protagonist walking among the ruins of his people writhes in pain as he is led by an unnamed figure on a nighttime stroll through the historical sites where human life was trampled and the dead are buried. In one sequence the poet feels guilty for his inability to rescue his brethren, and in another he meets "little cotty," a mysterious lass who personifies the collective horror felt within by the survivors.

In addition, Gouri has penned The Glass Booth (1962), a groundbreaking account of the Adolf Eichmann trial, flowing from his coverage of the event. He has also written and produced a triumvirate series of documentaries about the Holocaust—The 81st Blow, The Last Sea, and Fire in the Ashes —that are part of his mission to drive back the obscuring clouds of silence and refusal to allow the disaster to disappear into the mist. Likewise, he is the author of The Chocolate Deal (1964), an exquisitely crafted novella overflowing with symbology and metaphor exploring the aftershocks that reverberate through the lives of two emotionally crippled survivors.

—Dvir Abramovich

See the essay on The Chocolate Deal.

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