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Jewish Journal

Four Visitors

by Tom Tugend

December 16, 1999 | 7:00 pm

A full complement of interesting visitors met with the Jewish Journal in recent days, starting with the wife of a presidential candidate and continuing with a museum director from Berlin, an Israeli cabinet minister, and the first Arab woman to serve in Israel's parliament.

Ernestine Bradley, the wife of candidate Bill Bradley, had never met a Jew until she left her native Germany and came to the United States as a 22-year-old Pan Am airline stewardess.

"When I grew up in the Bavarian town of Passau, there were no Jews left," she recalls.

Passau was the setting for the German film "The Nasty Girl," based on an actual investigation by a young woman into her town's behavior during the Nazi period, a probe greeted with horror by her fellow citizens.

Mrs. Bradley, who was 10-years-old when the war ended, was barely aware of the Holocaust until she arrived in the United States in 1957. But now, as professor of German and comparative literature at Montclair State University in New Jersey, the Holocaust, or better German literature on the Holocaust, has become her central intellectual preoccupation.

In her new book, "The Language of Silence," published under her professional name, Dr. Ernestine Schlant, she scores German writers, not for ignoring the Holocaust -- indeed, the subject continues to obsess the German media -- but for their inability to empathize and identify with the Jewish victims.

She has kicked up something of a fuss in Germany by criticizing Guenther Grass ("The Tin Drum"), the country's foremost novelist and this year's Nobel Prize winner in literature, "for not being able to imagine intuitively what it meant to be a victim," she says.

The same criticism applied to most current German writers, she believes, noting "their inability to mourn (for the Jews) and an absence of sadness or abhorrence."

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