The Last Jew

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Play by Yaffa Eliach, 1977

The Last Jew is a four-act play written by Yaffa Eliach and Uri Assaf. It was first produced and broadcast live by Israel's National Broadcasting Company on 7 April 1975 in the Zavta Theater, Tel-Aviv, to commemorate the Day of Heroes and Martyrs. This work compares the worlds of two very different generations that are dealing with the Holocaust in dissimilar fashions. The first generation consists of two madmen who cannot distinguish present from past, Nachumadman and Maftir-Yonah; the Last Jew of the Eisysky shtetl, Avraham Schneiderman; and Vasily Levangorski, who was responsible for following German orders by massacring all of the Eisysky Jews in September 1941. Schneiderman is the only Eisysky Jew who remained alive, living for the past 30 years in the Eisysky shtetl. The younger generation represents the present Israeli reality in 1971. Dr. Bluma Maoz Lev is the daughter of Avraham Schneiderman; her husband, Dr. Vladimir Maoz Lev, is the son of Vasily Levangorski. Vladimir is also in charge of the asylum where Nachumadman and Maftir-Yonah are interned. He is a converted Jew who has gone to the Holy Land to start a new life while internally combating the guilt and turmoil that the Holocaust left behind. Yigal Sinai, an Israeli security officer, represents the New Israel, but he wishes to see Israel not just move forward but to make sure that a Holocaust never occurs again. These characters set the backdrop for a play that wrestles with the tremendous guilt enveloping not only those who were left behind to survive but also those whose generation is guilty of unspeakable crimes. The play raises many questions: How does the younger generation deal with the Holocaust and with being the offspring of survivors or perpetrators of a gruesome past? What problems must they overcome or at least attempt to resolve? The new generation of Jews wants to start over, but the old generation of survivors does not allow it, nor does Vladimir, whose guilt runs so deep for what his father committed that he constantly lives in the past. Flashbacks in the play also provide the audience with a connection to the past and a view to the dilemma that both generations are trying to surmount.

Symbolic in this play are the effigies that have been set up on the stage, nine figures that represent the missing minyan. This symbolizes the demise of the Eisysky shtetl. In the first act a carriage enters the scene carrying four images that represent Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt. These images, as well as the flashbacks, are constant reminders of the past. Nachumadman's and Maftir-Yonah's antics concerning the past and the Holocaust also serve to remind the audience of Vladimir's own past and reinforce the guilt he carries on his shoulders. The younger generation knows of the past via the stories from its parents, but the main difference lies in the fact that the young Jewish generation, represented by Bluma and Yigal, wishes to go forth and build a strong Israel, while the children of perpetrators, embodied by Vladimir, wish to suffer for the deeds of their parents. Vladimir is so burdened by guilt he wears a necklace of barbed wire. This provides a constant struggle between people of the same age who have suffered the outcome of the war in very different ways. For both Bluma and Vladimir the Holocaust is kept alive by Avraham Schneiderman and Vasily Levangorski, who also struggle with being victims and perpetrators. Schneiderman's own background is questionable as well, for one must wonder how he managed to be the only survivor of the shtetl. Did he reveal Jewish hiding places in order to protect his collection of gold? Although he has come to Israel to visit his daughter Bluma, is he actually acting as an agent of the Soviet authorities (namely Levangorksi) by bringing Vladimir back to his father? Is this yet another attempt to save himself at the expense of another? The main question that comes forth throughout the play is, "Can he who sank deeply in a black, filthy mire in order to save his body be clean without stain or blemish?"

The play is an excellent representation of the dilemmas that have faced survivors, persecutors, and their children. There is no easy answer for either generation and the cold, dark reality is that the atrocities of the Holocaust can never be forgotten by Vladimir or Schneiderman, nor escaped by Bluma, who struggles to lead a normal life in Israel as the daughter of the Last Jew.

—Cynthia A. Klíma