The German Refugee By Bernard Malamud

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The German Refugee by Bernard Malamud


Bernard Malamud was born April 26, 1914 in New York in Brooklyn to a Russian-Jewish family. In the 1940s he taught at night school, and in 1949 he was appointed at the University of Oregon. Later in the year 1961, he became a lecturer at Bennington, where he worked for over 20 years. Malamud died in New York on March 18, 1986.

Malamud emerged as a talented artist, depicting the life of the Jewish poor in New York. Malamud's creativity was inherent in his allegory and mastery in the art of storytelling. This paper will discuss Bernard Malamud's famous short story collection “the German Refugee”.


"The German Refugee" concludes Bernard Malamud's second collection of short stories, Idiots First (1963). The setting is New York City in the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II. The principal character, Oskar Gassner, a Jew, has immigrated to the United States from Germany. He saw what was happening to Jews, especially after Kristallnacht, and knew that he had to get out of that "accursed country."

Leaving his Gentile wife, the daughter of a virulent anti-Semitic mother, behind in Stettin, Oskar comes to New York and tries to perfect his English so that he can deliver his lectures to an American audience. He hires a young student, Martin Goldberg, to tutor him. The story is Martin's first-person account of trying to help Oskar and of the friendship that grows between them as Oskar struggles with his pronunciation and the vagaries of American English.

The use of the Jew in the fiction of Bernard Malamud has been a topic of debate for decades. Malamud was the son of Jewish grocers and he grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn-therefore some argue that he wrote about Jews for the same reason that he wrote stories "set in small, prisonlike stores of various kinds": in either case he was simply writing about what he knew.

Critic Robert Alter, for instance, claims that "although his [Malamud's] protagonists are avowedly Jewish, he has never really written about Jews, in the manner of other American Jewish novelists". There are also those critics (most notably Edward Abramson) who claim that Malamud's use of the Jew was marginal-that, to borrow a phrase from Philip Roth, Malamud was less concerned with what it is to be Jewish than he was with "what it is to be human, and to be humane". While either of these readings of Malamud would seem reasonable, neither of them attempt to explain what Malamud meant when he stated that "every man is a Jew, even if he doesn't know it".

More than that, those who read Malamud's Jewish characters as incidental Jews or marginal Jews would seem to be negating an important aspect of the writer's context. Not only was Malamud living his formative years during the Second World War-beginning in 1939 when the writer was twenty-five and ending in 1945 when he was thirty-one-but in his very first published story, "Armistice" (published ...