Day After Night
By Anita Diamant
Scribner Paperback Edition 2010
You will find, dearreader, that I am particularly interested in both fiction and non-fiction about WWll. Not the battles or military side of it, but the social and psychological aspects of the era and the war, both here and abroad. Oftentimes, these books can be somewhat depressing. Today’s novel, Day After Night by Anita Diamant, based on historical facts and events that occurred in Palestine after the end of the war, is somewhat different from most WWll themed books that I have read.
To put the story and events into historical context for thereader, a brief history lesson is in order. Israel did not become a nation until 1948. From 1922 until then, Palestine (as the area was called), was under the administrative jurisdiction of Great Britain. Initially, Britain supported an independent Jewish nation. However, by 1939, the government of the UK reneged on its previous mandate allowing the immigration of Jews into Palestine. Only 10,000 people of Jewish heritage were allowed to immigrate to Palestine each year from 1939 to 1944. After that, legal immigration to Palestine for Jews was down to a mere trickle. WWll lasted from 1939 until 1945. Moving from Europe to Palestine could have saved millions of Jewish lives.
After the war was over, many of the remaining European and Middle Eastern Jews were homeless, or had no desire to live in countries that had turned their backs on them. In decrepit, dilapidated boats, and by some overland routes, Jews began arriving in Palestine with the help of the Haganah resistance movement. Most of them were “illegal” immigrants, without permission to settle in the country. These “illegals” were herded into detention centers by the British and languished there until decisions about their individual settlement rights were made.
Day After Night takes place in the Atlit detention center near Haifa between August and October 1945. The four main characters are all Jewish women who have survived the war in Europe. Shayndel is a Polish Zionist who spent most of the war fighting Nazis along with the partisans in Poland’s forests. Tedi, the tall, blonde Dutch woman is the only survivor of her entire family. A French beauty, Leonie spent the war enduring her own indignities and horrors. The only concentration camp survivor is Zorah, an angry, bitter Polish woman who refuses to forget her wartime experiences. In the camp, “there was an unwritten rule… against asking survivors about their experiences” (p. 112). Although the reader learns each woman’s backstory, very rarely do the detainees share their stories with others.
The wartime encounters of each character are revealed in the novel, but not dwelled upon. The primary story is about life in Atlit – the arrival of new immigrants, the boredom, the anxiety, the waiting are all detailed. Palestine is so entirely different from Europe, that many find simple things, such as a cucumber and tomato salad for breakfast, the heat, real cigarettes and learning Hebrew to be amazing as well as confusing.
All of the women and camp residents are anxious to be released. Starting a new life free of barbed wire and foreign administrators is of paramount importance. Atlit is no picnic and is still confinement for each person. There is significant distrust among the detainees. Secrets abound. Spying becomes critical to the Jewish wish for freedom. Tedi, Leonie, Zorah, Shayndel and many others are possessed by the desire to break free of camp life.
While the women portrayed by the author are fictional, organizations, events and the incredible resolution of the story are not. Anita Diamant’s Day After Night is not your typical story of the Holocaust. It is a story about hope, new beginnings and the will to build the new, independent, Jewish nation of Israel. It is a very enlightening look into what life was like for the survivors of Hitler’s insane vision who arrive in Palestine. All the more so because the story is based on fact.
Another 3+ eye rating for a relatively unknown look into post WWll history.