Study Guide

The Last of the Just Summary & Study Guide

André Schwarz-Bart
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The Last of the Just Summary & Study Guide Description

The Last of the Just Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart.

Ernie Levy is the last of the family of Levy to be a Lamed-Vovnik, a Just Man. His story takes place during the years leading up to and during World War II, but the book's story begins in the year 1185, with a slaughter of Jewish men, women and children in York, England. The legend of the Just Men is that God granted that there would be thirty-six men during each generation who would be labeled the Lamed-Vovnik, or the Just Men. Their job, whether they know it or not, is to take on the pain and suffering of all the world, for without even one of the thirty-six, the suffering of the world would be so great that all mankind would cease to exist.

The story begins with the source of the legend and follows quickly through a dozen generations of Levy men before coming to Ernie Levy's immediate family. Mordecai Levy is the first of the Levy men to be so introduced, a devout Jew, though wrestling with some of the constraints of his religion. Mordecai's entire purpose is to see the next Lamed-Vovnik of the Levy family, and it is he who awakens the legend in the heart and mind of Ernie Levy, his grandson.

Ernie Levy is a sweet, sensitive and introspective Jewish boy who wishes only to read stories, playact, and hear the stories of the martyrs of the Just Men. When he first hears of the Lamed-Vovnik he does not believe they could be real, but his educational and religious training at the hands of his grandfather predispose him to believing in their existence, and when Ernie realizes that the next Lamed-Vovnik could be he, Ernie prepares himself physically and mentally for the task.

The journey from believing that he could be the next Lamed-Vovnik and actually becoming the last Just Man takes Ernie through a life of unbelievable torment and torture at the hands of his one-time friends, an experience so foul that as a child he tries to take his own life. When he recovers, two years later, his body is healed, but his spirit never recovers from the experience. World War II is overtaking Europe and Ernie's family travels to France for safety, and for a time there is peace for the Levy family, but Germany conquers France, and Ernie's life becomes that of a madman, where he chooses to believe that he is nothing but a dog and lives as a dog and acts as a dog.

It is the love of a sweet, physically handicapped Jewish girl that brings Ernie out of his madness, and he experiences a short hiatus of true love only to have her snatched from him by the Germans rounding up Jews to take to the concentration camps. Wanting to be with his love, his only purpose for returning to a life of reason, Ernie travels to the concentration camp and actually asks to be admitted. Thinking him a spy, with information for the inmates, Ernie is tortured unbelievably before they finally accept that he really is imbecilic enough to want to be incarcerated.

Ernie's love, Golda, is at the camp, and for a short time they are able to be together, then the train to the final death camp comes and Ernie and Golda are on board with hundreds of frightened Jewish children. Ernie's status as a Just Man is questionable until this time, when he talks to and comforts the terrified children, telling them that they are going to join their parents, that they will all be together in Paradise very soon, and even in the gas chambers he encourages the little ones to breathe very deeply and very quickly, knowing that their deaths will come that much sooner. Knowing that he cannot prevent their deaths, Ernie chooses to be with them until the end, trying to the best of his human ability to make their death bearable.

The Last of the Just is a story that will stay with the reader for years, coming back to mind anytime there is an injustice in the world, a religious intolerance or a question of the hereafter. Ernie Levy's story is one of the most powerful in literature, and is the first book written by concentration camp survivor, Andre Schwarz-Bart, whose parents perished in the German death camps. The book is not an autobiography, but certainly many of the experiences have been painted with the brush of experience.

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