Bruckstein, Ludovic. “The Trap”, Istros Books, 2019.
Ludovic Bruckstein’s “The Trap” consists of two novellas, published for the first time in English that give us a fascinating look at rural life in the Carpathians around the period of the Second World War. We read of the fall into disorder and fear of two c communities that were once havens of religious and racial acceptance but that were, in fact, constructed on foundations of prejudice and discrimination. Bruckstein gives us the effects of the Holocaust not only on the Jewish community, but also the wider Christian society. “The two novellas tell cautionary tales of how gradual changes that individually seem inconsequential can lead to catastrophic alterations in the very fabric of society which, by the time they are acknowledged, are irreversible.” These stories are a warning that passivity and political apathy can be just as harmful as actions.
In 1972 Bruckstein left Romania for Israel. While in Romania, he wrote plays and short stories, and taught at the University, but was never considered literarily. He published his writings in Israel until his death in 1988 and caught the attention of the local literary critics but remains largely unknown in Romania. Istros Books brought Bruckstein into the wider, English-speaking literary world, publishing two of his novellas, “The Trap” and “The Rag Doll.”
“The Trap” is set among the humiliations Jews had to deal with daily in Bruckstein’s native Sighet. ‘How easily a man accustoms himself to everything! Even to his own humiliation’ says Ernst, the main character of the story remarks that man easily accustoms himself to everything including his own humility. Ernst returned home from his architecture studies in Vienna which had become a prison with invisible walls, and he had to escape from those walls’. He survives the war and is deported by the Russians following something that was completely absurd. We see that most situations and characters are in fact hiding behind the friendly welcoming appearance of a darker side. “Ernst is the witness of the historical revelation of the beautiful appearances, of the human lows and weaknesses. It is the experience that people that went through the horrors of the Shoah – as Bruckstein himself – had to live with thereafter.”
“The Rag Doll” is about a mixed marriage when the Jewish spouse either gives up or hides his/her identity. The love affair between Theo and Hanna was able to survive the harassment against the Jews during the war but failed when Theo met a much younger colleague at work. Hanna gave up her Friday evening candle lightning as a ‘protection’ for her daughters. But every once in a while, she is unable to do nothing when “she hears the usual anti-Semitic references or longing for her family home and the life with her parents, murdered during Shoah that disowned her anyway after marrying a non-Jew.”
These two novellas are very important for the literary Jewish history in Romania. The English translation is very welcomed.