Imagine a people beleaguered by enemies throughout the ages, and at last murdered by the millions, in the heart of the civilized world. Imagine that this catastrophe leads directly to a political solution for the survivors: a sovereign state, an ingathering of the displaced remnant, in a land full of historical resonance for this wandering people. Imagine that this new Jewish state is founded on a combination of the visionary socialist idealism of its founders and the opportunistic cynicism of the world’s superpowers. Finally, imagine that its founding is possible only through the displacement of the region’s non-Jewish population, with tragic and ongoing consequences.
Sound familiar? It had better! It is the universally known and endlessly argued story of Judenstaat, the wonder of the postwar era, the Jewish state founded in 1948 on lands formerly known as Saxony, bordering Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia . . . or did I mean to say Israel, founded on lands formerly known as Palestine?
The glory of Simone Zelitch’s page-turning alternate history is the uncanny precision with which she has deftly transformed the threads of actual events into the stunning new fabric of her novel. The verisimilitude of the tale grows in the telling: It is a Jewish historian who is our heroine, her self-appointed task to uncover the troubling facts of Judenstaat’s founding. Her mission is fueled by the murder of her husband, a Saxon who knew too much, adding a mystery element to this compelling story. From the very beginning—Abraham, Jacob, David—it has always been the leaders with uneasy consciences who have kept the flame of Jewish ethics alive. Despite its status as fiction, Judenstaat is now an indispensable text in that history.