Monday, April 18, 2016

Franz Werfel and "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" -- New Information

I wrote about The Forty Days of Musa Dagh a few years ago when I read the book. Today I read a fascinating study of this book's influence: "From Musa Dagh to Masada: How Franz Werfel’s novel about the Armenian Genocide inspired the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and the Zionist resistance" by Stefan Ihrig in Tablet magazine.

This article describes how the book intentionally created parallels between the Armenian genocide (not yet called that) and the coming Jewish disaster. The book was too late to serve its intended purpose as a warning to the Germans because the Nazis suppressed and burned it immediately after its publication. However, it influenced the Jews in Palestine at the time -- a quote from the article:
Werfel’s book was translated into Hebrew as early as 1934. In an early review from the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) Dov Kimchi wrote extensively of the forthcoming book, based on excerpts published abroad. He wrote, among other things, that “we Hebrew readers … read into this book on the Armenians our very own tragedy.” A year later, in 1934, another review, by R. Seligmann in The Young Worker (Ha-Poel Ha-Tzair), expressed similar sentiments, observing, “The book is very interesting for the educated reader in general, but the Jewish reader will find it of special interest. The fate of this Armenian tribe recalls, in several important details, the fate of the people of Israel, and not surprisingly the Jewish reader will discover several familiar motifs, so well known to him from the life and history of his people.” In 1936, Moshe Beilinson wrote a more critical review. He was irritated by the fact that a Jew would erect such a monument to the suffering of another people. But he, at least partially, understood Werfel’s intentions: “This is no more than a shell, for in truth this is a Jewish book, not only because it was written by a Jew, but in a less abstract sense, simpler and more concrete, the author speaks of us, of our fate, of our struggle.”