The Jew­ish Brigade

Mar­vano, Mon­tana Kane (Trans­la­tor)

  • Review
By – May 23, 2022

The Jew­ish Brigade, a British mil­i­tary unit of Jew­ish sol­diers from both Pales­tine and Great Britain, fought to defeat the Nazis from 1944 to the end of World War II. After the war, some mem­bers of the unit worked to bring Jew­ish refugees to Pales­tine, and also to avenge the deaths of Europe’s Jews by pur­su­ing war crim­i­nals and killing them. The sto­ry of the Brigade chal­lenges the unjust image of Jews as pas­sive vic­tims, and defies the stereo­type of weak­ness that stig­ma­tized them for centuries.

In Marvano‘s graph­ic nov­el, British Jew Leslie Toliv­er, and his col­league from Pales­tine, Ari, see com­bat in Italy, but their mis­sion does not end with the Ger­mans’ sur­ren­der. Com­mit­ted to trans­form­ing Jew­ish vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty into Jew­ish strength, they con­front the oppo­si­tion of British lead­er­ship and of Arab res­i­dents in the land they see as a home for the world’s Jews.

Toliv­er is relent­less in his con­vic­tions that ret­ri­bu­tion and progress are insep­a­ra­ble. In the novel’s first episode, he tracks down a for­mer SS offi­cer dis­guised as a Catholic priest, and responds with con­tempt to the war criminal’s plea for mer­cy. Much of the text is terse, some­times with dra­mat­ic tropes rem­i­nis­cent of Hol­ly­wood films about the war. Toliver’s gruff com­mand­ing offi­cer coun­ters his skep­ti­cism about British com­pas­sion for the Jews with a per­son­al self-defense: I’m a mem­ber of the human race. Do you have a prob­lem with that?” This sto­ry is not a revi­sion­ist approach, but rather an affir­ma­tion of his­to­ry and the inevitabil­i­ty of a defi­ant response to mass mur­der. Read­ers expect­ing a more nuanced explo­ration of guilt, revenge, or Zion­ism itself, will not find it here.

One of the novel’s strengths is its panoram­ic view, inte­grat­ing the per­son­al tragedies and glob­al destruc­tion that cul­mi­nate in the fight for a Jew­ish state. There are graph­ic scenes of killing, but also sequences high­light­ing cama­raderie, both ren­dered in earth col­ors. Select­ed images of con­cen­tra­tion camp vic­tims appear in gray shades, rein­forc­ing the cin­e­mat­ic tone of the text. A sin­gle frame of a show­er­head releas­ing poi­son gas, a pho­to of ema­ci­at­ed bod­ies, and the rev­e­la­tion that Toliv­er has suf­fered per­son­al loss­es with­in the glob­al cat­a­stro­phe, build towards a con­clu­sion of improb­a­ble opti­mism. When Toliv­er and Ari joke about the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of anti­semitism, they under­score the sense that his­to­ry has made para­noia obsolete.

Marvano’s nar­ra­tive, both pow­er­ful and dis­turb­ing, demands atten­tion to dif­fi­cult truths. The Holo­caust dec­i­mat­ed the major­i­ty of Europe’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion. The author leaves no doubt that the world’s aban­don­ment of the Jews — whether because of hatred or indif­fer­ence — will not con­trol them.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions