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Adam Kirsch Reviews Saul Friedlander's 'Small Masterpiece In the Literature of the Holocaust'.

If there is such a thing as an archetypal 20th-century Jewish life, Saul Friedlander has led it. All three of the central Jewish experiences of the era left their mark on him: the Holocaust, which he survived as a young boy; the founding of Israel, where he moved in 1948; and the rise of Jewish life in America, where he now lives, after retiring from teaching at UCLA. No wonder that a man so shaped and pressed by history became a historian. Friedlander is one of the world's leading scholars of the Holocaust, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nazi Germany and the Jews, among many other works. But what does it mean to write the history of events that are, in fact, part of one's own personal memory? What does a life like Friedlander's feel like from the inside?

These are the questions he set out to answer in his most personal book, When Memory Comes, a short, sparely written memoir first published in 1978. It has now been released in a new edition, by Other Press, to accompany a newly published second volume of Friedlander's memoirs, Where Memory Leads. Taken together, these books form a primary document of modern Jewish historya contribution to the study of the past that uses the tools not of the historian, but of the autobiographer. A scholar attempts to ascertain details and facts, and synthesize them into a complete narrative. A memoirist, however, knows that what matters most about the past, the way it felt, is always elusive, partial, reconstructed rather than recollected. Friedlander's title tellingly reverses the formula he uses in the epigraph to When Memory Comes, taken from the Austrian writer Gustav Meyrink: "When knowledge comes, memory comes too, little by little. Knowledge and memory are one and the same thing." For Friedlander, it is memory that comes first, bringing a kind of imperfect knowledge in its train.

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Author:Kirsch, Adam
Publication:Tablet Magazine
Date:Nov 10, 2016
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