National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Shawl

The Shawl

by Cynthia Ozick

Just as you can’t grasp anything without an opposable thumb, you can’t write anything without the aid of metaphor. Metaphor is the mind’s opposable thumb.


The Life and Times of Cynthia Ozick

  1. Late 1920s
    • 1928: Cynthia Ozick is born on April 17 in New York City.
    • 1929: The stock market crashes on October 29, beginning the Great Depression.
  2. 1930s
    • 1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected president.
    • 1933: Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany, establishes the first concentration camp, Dachau.
    • 1939: Germany invades Poland, starting World War II in Europe.
  3. 1940s
    • 1941: Japan bombs Pearl Harbor on December 7. Germany and its Axis partners declare war on the U.S. less than one week later.
    • 1944: U.S. and British troops land at Normandy on June 6; the Germans launch a final offensive, the Battle of the Bulge in December.
    • 1945: Hitler commits suicide April 30.
    • 1945: World War II ends. More than 6 million Jews are dead as a result of the Holocaust.
    • 1945: The Nuremberg war crime tribunals begin November 20.
    • 1949: Ozick graduates from New York University.
  4. 1950s
    • The United States enters a period of sustained prosperity and economic growth.
    • 1956: Egypt denies access to the Suez Canal, 1956; Israel then occupies the Gaza strip for four months.
    • 1952: Ozick marries Bernard Hallote.
  5. 1960s
    • 1961: The Berlin Wall splits the city in two.
    • 1963: John F. Kennedy is assassinated.
    • 1966: Ozick publishes her first novel, Trust.
    • 1967: In response to Egypt's alliance with Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, Israel launches an attack known as the Six-Day War.
  6. 1970s
    • 1971: Ozick publishes The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories.
    • 1972: Eight Palestinian terrorists murder eleven Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics.
    • 1973: Syria and Egypt launch a surprise attack against Israel known as the Yom Kippur or Ramadan War in October.
    • 1976: Ozick publishes Bloodshed and Three Novellas.
  7. 1980s
    • 1986: Pope John Paul II, a native of Poland and witness to the Holocaust, visits Rome's Great Synagogue to help repair the relationship between Catholics and Jews.
    • 1989: Ozick publishes The Shawl.
  8. 1990s
    • 1993: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is dedicated in Washington, DC.
    • 1994: After filming Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg establishes a nonprofit organization to document the experiences of Holocaust survivors.
    • 1994: Blue Lights, Ozick's stage version of The Shawl, premieres off-Broadway.
  9. 2000s
    • Ozick publishes Heir to the Glimmering World (2004), The Din in the Head (2006), and Foreign Bodies (2010).
    • 2007: Israel celebrates 60th anniversary.

The Holocaust and World War II

The "Holocaust" is the name commonly given to the state-sponsored program of mass murder by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. The term derives from the Greek words holos, meaning "completely," and kaustos, a burnt sacrificial offering. Many Jews prefer the Hebrew word "Sho'ah" (which means "catastrophic upheaval" or "calamity").

The Nazi Party, officially named the National Socialist German Workers Party, came to power in 1933 when German President Paul Von Hindenburg appointed rival Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany. After Von Hindenburg died the following year, Hitler assumed the powers of the presidency and created a dictatorship.

The Nuremberg race laws of 1935 deprived Jews of citizenship under the Third Reich, the name given to the German empire. The racism of the Nazi regime included boycotts of Jewish businesses, as well as legislation limiting the rights of Jews and other targeted groups. Using anti-Semitic propaganda, the Nazi government promoted the idea that Jews were "subhuman" enemies of the German state. The Nazis also declared as "inferior" Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Poles, Russians, those with disabilities, and others, for their behavior, ethnicity, or political affiliation.

Based on the ideology of German racial superiority, the Nazi Party began to fulfill Hitler's ambition of acquiring more territory in Europe. World War II began September 1, 1939, when German forces invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada followed suit but, by the end of September, the Polish army lay defeated, the country's land divided between Nazi Germany and their temporary ally, the Soviet Union. Over the next two years Germany defeated and occupied Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece.

At first, Jews and other Nazi "enemies" were imprisoned in ghettos, transit centers, forced labor camps, and concentration camps. The Nazis used the rail system to transport Jews from their homes all over Europe to these facilities. Many died of exposure, exhaustion, and starvation.

By 1941, the Nazis had decided to implement "The Final Solution," the complete extermination of all European Jews. Extermination camps designed for effective mass murder were constructed primarily in Poland, the country with the largest Jewish population. While concentration camps served as labor camps and detention sites, extermination camps were death centers with gas chambers intended to make killing both efficient and impersonal.Victims killed in the death camps were usually incinerated in massive ovens constructed to dispose of the bodies, and with them the evidence of the Nazis' elaborate system of genocide.

"When I had my store I used to 'meet the public,' and I wanted to tell everybody—not only our story, but other stories as well. Nobody knew anything. This amazed me, that nobody remembered what happened only a little while ago. They didn't remember because they didn't know."
—Rosa Lublin in The Shawl

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