The Last of the Just

by Andrae Schwarz-Bart

Book, 1960



Call number




New York, Atheneum Publishers, 1960., 374 pages


THE BOOK- In every generation, according to Jewish tradition, thirty-six just men, the Lamed-waf, are born to take the burden of the world's suffering upon themselves. At York in 1185 the just man was Rabbi Yom Tov Levey, whose sacrifice so touched God that he gave his descendants one just man each generation, all the way down to Ernie Levey, the last of the just, killed at Auschwitz in 1943. This, then, is the story of Ernie Levey.

Media reviews

"Den siste rettferdige" tok franske lesere med storm da den kom ut i 1959, og forfatteren mottok den høythengende Goncourt-prisen (sensasjonelt for en debutroman). En gammel jødisk legende forteller at det i hvert slektledd må finnes 36 rettferdige, som skal påta seg slektens byrder og sikre
Show More
dens fortsettelse. Handlingen begynner i York i året 1185, med en pogrom i en aldri avsluttet serie av pogromer. Nærmere vår egen tid er det Ernie Levy – bokens hovedperson – som fullfører historien. Han blir "den siste rettferdige" idet han elendig, men verdig møter døden i gasskammeret, som den siste i slekten Levy. Året er 1943. Ernie har i hele sitt kortvarige liv tatt lidelsene inn over seg med en nesten mystisk ro. Golda, hans unge elskede, blir hans vei inn i den store kjærligheten og det store offeret. Hans skjebne, blant seks millioner andre, blir et symbolsk martyrium, der det ubegripelige får et skjær av forsoning og skjønnhet. I seg selv et mysterium. Den siste rettferdige kom på norsk første gang i 1960.
Show Less

User reviews

LibraryThing member labfs39
...the ancient Jewish tradition of the Lamed-Vov, a tradition that certain Talmudists trace back to the source of the centuries, to the mysterious time of the prophet Isaiah. Rivers of blood have flowed, columns of smoke have obscured the sky, but surviving all these dooms, the tradition has
Show More
remained inviolate down to our own time. According to it, the world reposes upon thirty-six Just Men, the Lamed-Vov, indistinguishable from simple mortals; often they are unaware of their station. But if just one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed-Vov are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs.

I have read many novels, memoirs, and histories about the Holocaust, but this may be the most literary that I've encountered. It is beautifully written and weaves history, legend, and religion into a fascinating story about the transference of the Just Man from one generation to the next within the Levy family, culminating in the life and death of Ernie Levy. The story begins with the horrific tales of Rabbi Yom Tov Levy and his progeny who suffered death and martyrdom over and over throughout the centuries in most of the countries of Europe. It is a seemingly endless cycle of persecution bringing us into the present with the story of Ernie's grandfather, Mordecai.

As an adolescent, Mordecai was forced to leave the shtetl of Zemyock, Poland and hire himself out as a farm hand in order to keep his parents and siblings from starvation. They would rather starve, because to the Hasidic Levy family, nothing is worth turning from the study of God. Furthermore, on every job, Mordecai is forced to fight in order to establish his place in the hierarchy. Eventually, he becomes an itinerant peddler and meets and falls in love with a fiery young woman named Judith. Although his family doesn't approve of her, eventually Mordecai and Judith settle in Zemyock and raise a family. Finally, Mordecai is able to devote himself to religious study.

Their oldest son, Benjamin, doesn't seem to fit the bill as the next Just Man. He is skinny and small with a large head, unlike his three more robust younger brothers, and Mordecai fairly ignores him. A vicious pogrom forces Benjamin to leave Zemyock and move to Germany, where things seem much safer than in Eastern Europe. Ah, do you see the shadow of destiny falling? Benjamin becomes a tailor and eventually earns enough to bring his parents to live with him and soon his wife. Completely cowed by the headstrong Judith, Fraulein Leah Blumenthal is the mother to a large brood of children, yet remains naive and impotent of power.

And so we come to Ernie, neither the oldest or youngest, small and unassuming, but possessed of an undeniably sensitive soul. Nurtured and protected by his family, especially the patriarch Mordecai, Ernie nonetheless suffers from the growing Nazi presence in Stillenstadt. The story of his childhood is sweet and horrible and a window into the suffering of Jewish children in 1930's Germany. Ernie's innocence is gnawed away until he is only a shell filled with despair and hopelessness. As a young man he wanders, believing himself to be nothing more than the dog the Nazi's have labeled him. The story of his redemption in Paris and his ultimate fate, I will leave you to discover, but needless to say, as a Just Man, Ernie's destiny is not an easy one.

I loved the language of this book, although it is not an easy read emotionally. The author writes beautifully of the tortures of a sensitive soul, affinity with nature, the trials of childhood relationships, and the bleakness of losing your way in life. And arching over all of this, humanity, lies the Holocaust. It's as awful as you might imagine, but even worse is the idea you are left with. What if we have murdered the Last Just Man? To what brink have we brought ourselves spiritually, and is it possible to recover?

Highly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member gortonw
nobody i told about this book had ever heard of it and i can't figure out why. it is a fantastic and powerful novel. when people ask me what its about though, i had trouble telling them. it is about humanity - wonderful, vulnerable, broken humanity. it is an agonizing read - made me feel like
Show More
throwing up at times. made me smile a lot and laugh out loud a few times as well. it should be read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member niksarm
Best book ever written about the Holocaust!
LibraryThing member suesbooks
This is a very sad, but true partial history of the Jews until the Holocaust. Schwarz-Bart kept my interest, but i would have preferred no magic realism. he follows one family for centuries, and ends with ernie, a lamed vovnek, murdered in the holocaust.
LibraryThing member jonfaith
How common is a phase of Shoah exploration? I found it rather odd and off-outting when I fell into a period in my early 20s, I was nearly obsessed and read constantly from scholarly analyses, memoirs and novels. I found the subject nearly untenable for most people in Southern Indiana: why would you
Show More
want to read about that? Since then I have encountered a half dozen kindred souls who likewise went inexplicably overboard on this darkest of subjects.

I read this novel in 1994 and was ripped as if by the throat and throttled violently.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Polaris-
Powerful and moving. The journey through the generations is exhilirating. The outcome just heartbreaking. A beautiful book you will remember.


Original language


Original publication date

1960 (English translation)


1585670162 / 9781585670161

Similar in this library

Page: 0.1306 seconds