Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Jakov Lind

The death of Jakov Lind at 80 ought not to go unnoticed. Lind, the author of Soul of Wood, Landscape in Concrete, and Ergo, was a man of great talent, an idiosyncratic and powerful writer who carried with him the experience of surviving the Nazis. I used to run into him occasionally in the company of other multi-lingual émigrés comprising a pocket of literary London. The conversation usually turned to the subterfuges that had enabled him to stay alive during the war. He had had some instinct that if he could pass himself off as not Jewish, the safest place to be was inside Germany itself. He pulled it off. A teenager, he worked on barges on the Rhine. Towards the end of the war, he was a courier for the Luftwaffe, an occupation surely as dangerous and improbable as any. I remember him one evening explaining that quite a few Jews escaped by passing themselves off like this, and they were known as “submarines.” I also remember him saying cryptically, “We learnt to live in a cupboard.”

Born in Vienna, as Heinz Landwirth, he acquired pseudonyms easily. After the Anschluss in 1938, his parents managed to emigrate to mandatory Palestine, but for unclear reasons left their son behind. He went to Holland, and his odyssey began. After 1945 he rejoined his parents in Palestine, and I believe took part in Israel’s war of independence.

The Trip to Jerusalem is a very short book he published in 1974, and rich and fascinating it is too. He opened it by saying that he had had a vision, and had become a convert to God. Testing his vision, he went back to Israel. Normal life took over. His sister lived there, his son Grisha was doing his military service. He spent some time with David Ben Gurion, then in retirement, and with the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem. In just a few pages, he completes a wonderful depiction of Israel, and what it means to a fugitive and restless spirit like his. I took this book out to read it again just now, and found that I had noted in it, “When all is said and done, Lind is his own best story, all the way along the perplexing path to the Heavenly City.”