No One Is Here Except All of Us
By liz holbert
April 2, 2012
Zalischik is a tiny village in Romania inhabited by an unassuming community of Jews. In No One Is Here Except All of Us, it’s World War II, and when the first bomb drops nearby and the first wave of war debris (including a living, breathing woman) washes up on the banks of Zalischik’s all-encircling river, the people panic.
The washed-up stranger apprises them of the horrors from which she has been swept away. She tells them of the massacre of her family, her people, their innocence. Armed with this news of the approaching machines of war, a strange plan of defense is formulated. Born out of the imagination of a child and based on the cyclical pattern in Jewish history of being destroyed and reborn to flourish time and time again, the village decides to begin afresh. They proclaim boldly that there is no humanity outside of their riverbanks. All things are decided to be new—even some family ties are dissolved for new ones.
The re-creation of the world begs the question: Is ignorance bliss? Is their ploy an elaborate attempt at digging a cool hole for a head in the sand? Or is it an attempt to take action against the looming inevitable as best as one can?
Penned by Ramona Ausubel, a descendant of Jewish people who lived in the real Zalischik, No One Is Here Except All of Us is beautifully written in a flowing, lyrical prose, exploring humanity’s ability to withstand some of the greatest monstrosities remembered by history books. The tone is hauntingly poetic.
The first parts of Zalischik’s new history seem like a fairy tale. Oh, the possibilities of a fresh world! Dumping their old-world technology and all that could not yet be known into the muddy river swells, the people relearn life. But as quickly as it begins, darkness slips in again through the cracks. Villagers are forever feeling the pressure of the memories of what used to be reality, hoping they can lose themselves enough in the dream to push out what’s old and hoping the war they’ve forgotten won’t push in on them despite their willful ignorance. If only their strange defense could create metaphysical walls of protection, they could escape the mess. But one cannot live in a fog forever.
As the mist of the fairy tale lifts, readers discover the heart-throbbing question begged by descendants of Holocaust survivors worldwide. Where was the God of the Jews when the Jews were being destroyed? The questions of the characters and the vein of the story pulse anger at a God who appeared indifferent to the monstrosity committed against His people. Though few would try to speak for God to answer the question of His quietness, Ausubel never comes around, nor does she try. The character of the God of the Jews, as He stands in the context of No One Is Here, is shrouded in confusion. Sometimes He is portrayed as a man on a throne who does nothing, no matter how often He’s asked. Other times, especially in the village’s new world enthusiasm, He is described as being everything and everyone, the collection of hopes and dreams and fervent prayers offered by the people.
Throughout all the suffering and hurt of both the people and the author as she reflects on the horrifying past, there are undertones of hope—though small that hope may be. Ausubel’s humans are resilient and vibrant. They keep going and press forward to create a future for the next generation. They celebrate life, with all of its gritty obscurity. They love each other with action, sacrificing so others may live. They remember the past for the beauty of what was.
No One Is Here Except All of Us is fictional but should not be treated as an insignificant story. The horror committed against humanity is real. The human emotions involved in witnessing one’s race being devoured are historically accurate. Ausubel’s book is not clean. It’s not a nice story. In a world that tries to hide its face from tragedies of the past, No One Is Here is an electric jolt, waking us up to remember what has been and what could be again.
Why should this book be read? It should be read for the same reason one watches Schindler’s List or reads Anne Frank’s diary or the account of Elie Wiesel. No One Is Here is a new effort to remind, to paint a new picture of the scene we’ve allowed to gather dust.
Liz Holbert is a librarian and a church secretary and writes at www.zildamarie.blogspot.com.