Cover image for Bearing the unbearable : Yiddish and Polish poetry in the ghettos and concentration camps
Bearing the unbearable : Yiddish and Polish poetry in the ghettos and concentration camps
Aaron, Frieda W., 1928-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Albany, N.Y. : State University of New York Press, [1990]

Physical Description:
xii, 242 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PJ5141.2 .A27 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This book is a pioneering study of Yiddish and Polish-Jewish concentration camp and ghetto poetry. It reveals the impact of the immediacy of experience as a formative influence on perception, response, and literary imagination, arguing that literature that is contemporaneous with unfolding events offers perceptions different from those presented after the fact.

Documented here is the emergence of poetry as the dominant literary form and quickest reaction to the atrocities. The authors shows that the mission of the poets was to provide testimony to their epoch, to speak for themselves and for those who perished. For the Jews in the condemned world, this poetry was a vehicle of cultural sustenance, a means of affirming traditional values, and an expression of moral defiance that often kept the spirit of the readers from dying.

The explication of the poetry (which has been translated by the author) offer challenging implications for the field of critical theory, including shifts in literary practices--prompted by the growing atrocities--that reveal a spectrum of complex experimental techniques..

Author Notes

Born in Warsaw, Frieda W. Aaron survived the Warsaw ghetto, Maidanek and other concentration camps.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Frieda Aaron is not the first commentator to have noticed that poetry was the dominant genre of literary response while the Holocaust was in process, and that poetry was as vital a spiritual resource for those who heard (or read) and recollected it as it was for those who wrote those poems of grief, or rage, or faith. What distinguishes Bearing the Unbearable from other studies of the literary representation of the Holocaust is Aaron's decision to focus attention, primarily through textual explication, on a relatively small number of poems that illustrate the range of Jewish responses to the Holocaust. Abraham Sutzkever, who writes in Yiddish, and Wladyslaw Szlengel, who wrote in Polish, are the authors most frequently cited. The poems are usually cited in full in transliterated Yiddish or Polish (the latter marred by an appalling number of misspellings), then presented in English translation, and finally discussed in general terms and through painstaking explication, complete with metrical analysis. The result of this approach is that much fascinating material is offered the reader, but at the price of a good deal of repetition and unnecessary documentation of the obvious, making this a very uneven study. The book closes with a moving epilogue by the author, herself a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Maidanek, and other concentration camps. -M. G. Levine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Table of Contents

Part 1 Poetry as Documentation
1 In the Beginning
2 The Great Chain of Being
Part 2 Morale, Moral Resistance, and the Crisis of Faith
3 Breaking through the Wall of Silence
4 The Cultural Ferment and the Moral Mandate
Part 3 Issues of Resistance
5 Poetics of Exhortation
6 Word into Deed
7 S.O.S
Selected Bibliography