Ludovic Bruckstein, The Trap, Trans. by Alistair Ian Blythe, Istros Books, 2019.
One of the great things about reviewing translated fiction from around the world is those discoveries that turn up over the years those lost books and writers. In the great intro to the book from its translator about how Bruckstein maybe is the greatest Romanian writer of the post-war era but was little known as he was banned by the Romanian regime. He wrote a number of plays including the night shift that was about sonder Komando revolt at Auschwitz. He wrote this book late in his life it is semi-autobiographical Like the character Ernst in the book he lived in the Transylvanian town of Sighet in the Ghetto there he lost all his family a[art from himself and his younger brother as with most of the towns Jews.
To ernst, a student who had been abroad, the law seemed not only humilating, nt only insulting, but also stupid and ridiculous. It was a small town and everybody knew everybody knew everybody else, and for a fact, everybody knew who was a jew. And who was a Romanian. And who was a Hungarian. And who was a Ukranian and who was a Zipser erman. And who was a Gypsy . Nobody tries to hide what he was. The law was quite simply idotic. If a person knows you, what is the point of his making you wear a sign.
Ernst questioins wearing the star on their clothes.
The book is a selection of two novellas The trap and The rag doll both are set in the Carpathian mountains in the rural towns like his own childhood home of Sighet and shows the ripple effect of the Germans taking over and the changes that brought about and how it ripped the heart out of this town. I am focusing on the trap which has Ernst A student who had spent time away from his home town dealing with having to wear a yellow star. He says why can’t Catholics have a c the reformist has an r and so on as he points out we all we are jews as they are Ukranian or Hungarian or the local Zipser germans. There is a scene where all the jews are stopped and held by so troops for hours Ernst is one of the ones that questions why they are being held there and what for he even says he asks in his best Viennese German to the young troop. The growing trouble as we see the happenings in the town through Ernst’s eyes as they see there lives shrink and the transport trains start to take the Jews away from Sighet.
On the morning of 16 may 1944, Ernst woke up abruptly in his bed of moist hay in the loft of Ioun Stan’s barn
He thought he had heard a noise rising from the town, a strange hum made up of words and cries, mingled with harsh orders. Was it a dream? No, the sound persisted, perhaps more faintly than during sleep, but even so, it could still be heardup there on the slope of Agris Hill
The Ghetoo is being cleared and it wakes Ernst
I was recently at the Uk holocaust museum with My wife we were struck by the exhibition and the stories of those involved. But what is never captured is the lose of a community here Brickstein does a similar thing to the Lithuanian writer Grigory kanovich did in the book Shelti Love song which I reviewed a couple of years ago that caught the lose of a community the Shelti jews of Lithuania here we see the Jewish community of Sighet which was 13000 before the war which was nearly fifty percent of the population I was reminded of the way Dasa Drndric described the Italian edition of her book Trieste which had a list of Italian jews killed was passed around a crowd and if some new a name it was taken out. I read up on Sighet in 2002 there were just twenty jews so it shows the impact of the war in that community Ernst is based on Ludovic he sees his family friends and community slowly squeezed out of the town. I am one that thinks there can never be enough of books like this brought out in English and discovered as we see growing hatred in our own country we need to see what happens further down that road of hatred !! Istros have brought us a lost gem of Mittel European fiction - https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2019/11/13/the-trap-by-ludovic-bruckstein/
With its fast-pace and smooth, unpretentious prose, The Trap seems to imbue oral storytelling rather than literary artifice. Translated by Alistair Ian Blythe, the two novellas are the first of Jewish-Romanian author Ludovic Bruckstein’s works to be published in English. Despite engaging with darkest of times — the Second World War, its lead-up, and its immediate aftermath — the book’s narrative voice is warm and understanding, reminiscent of Anton Chekhov’s. Its value resides above all in bringing to life a world that has now since vanished: the intricate multi-ethnic communities and towns in 1930s and 1940s Transylvania, with their daily chatter, worries and dramas. Yet they also quietly explore the crucial question, “how did we come to this?”
Remembering the Jewish-Romanian author whose Holocaust stories continue to inspire
The first novella, also called The Trap, follows a young Jewish architecture student, Ernst, who is forced to interrupt his studies in Vienna and retire to the mountains near his hometown of Sighet to avoid wartime conscription. Finding shelter within the robust yet welcoming home of a shepherd’s family, Ernst reflects on his hometown, which has “a courthouse and a large prison, five Christian churches, [...] five synagogues, six primary schools; four lyceums; a large cafe that served Turkish coffee and tea in the front salon and which had rooms for billiards and cards at the back; two small cake shops on the Corso, which was the main street; a brothel at the edge of town, which was named the Jardin; and a Palace of Culture”. From his hiding spot in the woods, he observes the changes within the town, as the Nazi-allied Hungarian army takes over and begins to harass and antagonise the locals, and as his own family is ultimately sent away.
Despite the tragic reality it depicts, there’s unexpected humour throughout the story. Ernst ponders on the ridiculousness of the legally-enforced armbands for Jews to wear, especially in a small community where everyone knows everyone else. “Maybe people should also be marked according to their occupation?,” he wonders. “Barbers would have a B, for example, Merchants an M, teachers a T, doctors a D, pickpockets a PP, and so on.” Absurdism is a recurrent theme in this first novella, culminating with the Russian soldiers’ Kafkaesque reaction to Ernst as he appears in the “liberated” streets.
Despite describing past communities, the themes explored in Bruckstein’s novellas remain urgent in today’s multicultural, globalised world.
The second novella, titled The Rag Doll, focuses on Hanna, a smart young girl who defies her parents’ expectations and, like her reprobate aunt, runs away with a philosophy graduate to live a simple life working the land. After exploring the intergenerational conflict between traditional parents and their adventurous children in the first part of the story, it moves on to the challenges of married life. Bruckstein’s insight is most valuable in scrutinising “salon anti-semitism” as the young couple hide their Jewish identity from their fellow villagers. At one party, Hanna hears a notary flippantly comment that, “Whoever it was who said it had a point when he said that [Jews] are like salt in food.” When he adds that, “wherever you go, like it or not, you trip over them…” the phrase does not just carry the darkest historical undertones, but also uncannily echoes the anti-immigrant discourse that is resurging today.
Indeed, despite describing past communities, the themes explored in Bruckstein’s novellas remain urgent in today’s multicultural, globalised world. Rather than focusing on the brutality of concentration camps and war, Bruckstein investigates seemingly innocent prejudice and discrimination, political passivity and the dangers they pose.
The Trap is loosely autobiographical: Bruckstein himself was born in Sighet in 1920, survived Auschwitz but lost his parents in the Holocaust. He debuted with a play in Yiddish in 1947, and then wrote in both Romanian and Yiddish. In 1972, he migrated to Israel, where he continued to write for the Jewish Romanian community there. It’s thanks to his experience that these lost worlds are brought, once again, to life. - Paula Erizanu
Surviving the Holocaust and escaping communist Romania, Ludovic Bruckstein continued to rebuild his life by writing short stories inspired by the people he met. After three decades, his novellas have finally been published in English. Here, his son reflects on his father’s courage and compassion.