Michael Brown, "On Crucifying the Jews," Judaism 27 (Fall 1978) 476-488

Abstract by Jerry Darring


Critics have tended to ignore the Christian motifs used in Elie Wiesel's Night, Andre Schwartz-Bart's The Last of the Just, and the stories of Aharon Appelfeld. These writers could have used Jewish myths and symbols to write about the Holocaust, and their use of Christian terminology has evoked dumbfounded consternation among Jewish critics. Have these writers become closet Christians, as S.L. Schneiderman suggested when considering the crucifixion scenes in Chagall's paintings?

Brown analyzes their works and unmasks in them considerable use of Christian imagery. He focuses special attention on the presentation of Jews and Christians in the stories, and his conclusion is that, even though Christian symbols and imagery are used, the Christians and their world are portrayed as cruel and bestial. Jews suffer the fate of Jesus in that bestial world: they are crucified, and they are crucified by the Christians. It is the Jews who are the only true followers of Jesus, who represents an ideal for human life and death. "If the Church has traditionally thought of itself as the true Israel, Wiesel, Schwartz-Bart, and Appelfeld seem to believe that the Jews are the true Christians. And, ironically, the Christians in their works behave like the Jews as the Gospels portray them" (486).

In the end, "All three assert that the Holocaust was, at root, a Christian phenomenon and not a Jewish one, that foremost it raises theological questions for Christianity. From the standpoint of the works under discussion, the Holocaust calls into question not the possibility of remaining Jewish, but rather, the possibility of remaining Christian" (488).