Laughter Through Tears: The Wise Men of Chelm and the Holocaust in Nathan Englander's Story “The Tumblers”

Brygida Gasztold


“The Tumblers” is one of the stories from Nathan Englander’s debut collection of short fiction entitled For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (1999). In this story a group of orthodox Jews from the Chelm ghetto tries to impersonate a troupe of acrobats in order to escape transportation to the death camps. The humorous stories of the Sages/Fools of Chelm, popularized for a wider international audience by Isaac Bashevis Singer, are a vital part of Yiddish folklore. Englander’s story delivers a fresh perspective on the lost world of the Eastern European shtetl by juxtaposing comedy with the horrors of the Holocaust in an unlikely combination of farce, irony, and profundity.


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