Yiddish as voice and letter in post-holocaust literature

Hana Wirth-Nesher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Traces of Yiddish recurrently manifest themselves in contemporary Jewish literature written in other languages. Representation of Yiddish discourse in recent years has drawn on two significant facets of the language and its history: the tragic fate of Europe's Yiddish-speaking community in the Holocaust and the multilingual composition of Yiddish as a fusion language that crosses lexicons and alphabets. By invoking or embedding Yiddish in non-Yiddish writing, whether in its original Hebrew letters or in transliteration, authors emphasize the characters' and the reader's encounter with the foreign, in the fictive world and in the text, respectively. The fusion of Hebrew and German in Yiddish makes possible multilingual writing where the crossing of alphabets and lexicons becomes an analogue to the crossing of boundaries in historical, linguistic, ontological, and ethical terms. In post-Holocaust contemporary writing, Yiddish as incorporated into non-Yiddish writing is at times represented as a language of limits, untranslatability, and loss. Two recent works of literature provide case studies for the way in which Yiddish, as voice and as alphabetic image, is represented in English and in French: Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: The Search for Six of Six Million and Gilles Rozier's The Mercy Room.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-421
Number of pages23
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2014


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