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Denying Job

October 15, 2015

Rubbing out the truth

Dan Pagis was a child survivor of the Holocaust; his poem Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway Car is inscribed in stone at the Belzec death camp victims memorial.

here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i

Homily is a less famous Holocaust poem. Its three short paragraphs don’t pretend to solve the problem of pain. But they remind us that suffering is not the worst that can happen; it’s even worse to have the truth of our suffering – perhaps only scratched in pencil – rubbed out.


From the start the forces were unequal: Satan a grand seigneur in heaven, Job mere flesh and blood. And anyway the contest was unfair. Job, who had lost all his wealth and been bereaved of his sons and daughters, and stricken with loathsome boils, wasn’t even aware that it was a contest.

Because he complained too much the referee silenced him. So, having accepted this decision in silence, he defeated his opponent without even realising it. Therefore his wealth was restored, he was given sons and daughters – new ones of course – and his grief for the first children was taken away.

We might imagine that this retribution was the most terrible thing of all. We might imagine that the most terrible thing was Job’s ignorance: not understanding whom he had defeated or even that he had won.  But in fact the most terrible thing of all is that Job never existed and is just a parable.

 Dan Pagis

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