This week Bob Gold­farb, a reg­u­lar review­er for Jew­ish Book World, is blog­ging about the Inter­na­tion­al Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem May 2 – 6.

Sarah Blau, mod­er­at­ing a pan­el called Ash­es and Ink: Con­tem­po­rary Holo­caust Writ­ing,” called atten­tion to an appar­ent para­dox: the far­ther removed we are from the his­tor­i­cal Holo­caust, the more writ­ing there seems to be. What’s more, along­side the steady flow of schol­ar­ly stud­ies and mem­oirs, there con­tin­ue to be lit­er­ary works that have new things to say.

Some of them use fic­tion as a means of uncov­er­ing truths through inven­tion. The Span­ish nov­el­ist Adol­fo Gar­cia Orte­ga, one of the pan­elists, cit­ed War and Peace as an exam­ple of how nov­el­ists have poet­ic license to invent his­tor­i­cal events for noble rea­sons. Gar­cia Orte­ga, who had nev­er writ­ten a Holo­caust-themed work before, felt he had to take up the sub­ject after read­ing Pri­mo Levi. Levi’s rec­ol­lec­tion of Auschwitz If This is a Man men­tions a three-year-old boy who died, and may have been born, in the camp. That boy’s unknown sto­ry became the impe­tus for Gar­cia Orte­ga to grap­ple with the imag­ined par­tic­u­lars of such a life.

Daniel Mendel­sohns medi­um, as a crit­ic and schol­ar, is non-fic­tion. His book The Lost recounts his per­son­al inves­ti­ga­tion into the deaths of six mem­bers of his own fam­i­ly in the Shoah. He makes an impas­sioned case for speci­fici­ty and against gen­er­al­iza­tion: as he said, every­thing hap­pens at a cer­tain moment in time. All these gen­er­al­i­ties hap­pened to spe­cif­ic peo­ple; every­one has a spe­cif­ic death in a spe­cif­ic moment in a spe­cif­ic way.” As for Auschwitz, Mendel­sohn point­ed out that it became the sym­bol of the Holo­caust because it’s where the Jews from West­ern Europe were sent, and some lived to tell about it; Belzec is not that sym­bol because prac­ti­cal­ly no one survived.

Israeli writer Nir Baram, mean­while, inten­tion­al­ly avoid­ed Auschwitz alto­geth­er in his nov­el Good Peo­ple. His sto­ry looks at every­day life in Nazi Europe through two char­ac­ters, one of whom is an ambi­tious Albert Speer-like intel­lec­tu­al for whom the removal of pop­u­la­tions is an abstrac­tion until he begins to glimpse what it actu­al­ly looks like. He is a bureau­crat who believes in what he does because it serves his per­son­al cause of becom­ing a great man. The sto­ry ends in 1941, before most of the mur­ders of the Final Solu­tion have tak­en place.

Should a writer try to describe the unimag­in­able? Gar­cia Orte­ga, refer­ring in par­tic­u­lar to Jonathan Littell’s The Kind­ly Ones, defend­ed the role of fic­tion, say­ing there is a place for inter­pret­ing the facts in a more metaphor­i­cal way. Those sto­ries will be more remem­bered than books that sat­u­rate the read­er with facts.” Mendel­sohn, by con­trast, said All the descrip­tions in my book are quo­ta­tions from wit­ness state­ments. I don’t want to describe some­thing I have no inti­mate knowl­edge of. I felt that I couldn’t imagine/​invent/​recreate this kind of atroc­i­ty. Wit­ness state­ments are more elo­quent than any­thing I could imagine.”

Bob Gold­farb is pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Jew­ish Cul­ture and Cre­ativ­i­ty in Jerusalem and Los Ange­les. He also blogs for the Los Ange­les Jew­ish Jour­nal.