This third talk on characters from Herman Wouk’s 1985 novel War and Remembrance (for part one go here, part two here) concerns the actual hero of the book, Professor Aaron Jastrow. Aaron Jastrow is a humanist secular Jew, who has written a well-known book on Jesus — even FDR’s read it, and likes it — and whose “life’s work” is a biography of Martin Luther. He regards himself as thoroughly assimilated, and is unable to see — as the gentile Leslie Slote does see — the oncoming Holocaust of European Jewry. Jastrow is fussy, needling, pompous, selfish, and complaisant.
Wouk gradually tightens the noose on his hero, and tells a complex tale of “dependent arisings”, by which Jastrow and his niece, together with her small son, end up in Auschwitz. Almost right up to that point, Jastrow exists in denial. Finally, a brief encounter (pp. 1014-1024) with Adolf Eichmann in the Theresienstadt “paradise ghetto” opens the eyes of Aaron Jastrow. He reflects, after that eventful meeting, “… taking it all in all, I have spent my life on the run…. A fine earthy vulgarism goes, ‘What that man needs is a swift kick in the arse.’ It would seem to be my biography.”
The great lesson of Professor Jastrow’s conversion to reality, which expresses itself, in his case, through a phenomenal return to his ancestral religion of Orthodox Judaism, is that a lot of people require a wake-up call. An awful lot of personal paradigms are anchored in flight. Others are anchored in incessant fightings. Aaron Jastrow’s turn to reality, which enables him, at the end of the book, to become a hero of credible truth, with love, is rooted in self-knowledge. Eichmann becomes Jastrow’s ‘teacher’, woe betide! Finally, the student, failed in his whole life, gets the message.
War and Remembrance is a wonderful book. Read it when you can. It even understands about Episcopalians!
Download/listen here. This series of three podcasts is dedicated to W. Drake Richey.