Immigrants à Ellis Island (source)
La migration est un phénomène tout aussi ancien que la vie sur terre : il est même concomitant à la vie elle-même comme une des stratégies de survie. Les animaux migrent ; les plantes, elles aussi, migrent ; comment n’en serait-il pas de même de l’espèce humaine ?
Chez cette dernière, on retrouve des schémas assez constants dans le long processus d’intégration qui s’ensuit à une arrivée souvent forcée par la nécessité dans une société et une culture étrangères rarement accueillantes, processus qui concerne tous les aspects de leur nouvelle vie. D’une part, le difficile apprentissage d’une langue, d’us et de coutumes, de culture, de démocratie, de laïcité parfois bien différents de ce qu’ils connaissaient jusque là, processus qui peut s’accompagner d’un repli voire d’un enfermement communautaire, ou, à l’inverse, du rejet de son propre patrimoine par la première ou la seconde génération qui embrasse parfois aveuglément une modernité qui la fascine pour revenir, une ou deux générations plus tard, de façon apaisée ou exacerbée, vers la tradition, réelle ou fantasmée, de leurs ancêtres. D’autre part, la perte de statut socio-professionnel qui ne laisse souvent comme choix que celui de prendre les métiers considérés comme les plus bas sur l’échelle sociale et délaissés par les autochtones (qui ne sont après tout que des descendants d’immigrés) qui considèrent avec mépris ou ignorent tout à fait ces exploités mais qui ne manqueront de critiquer leur ultérieure ascension sociale… Conflits intergénérationnels, racisme, marginalisation, fondamentalismes y trouvent malheureusement un terreau bien fertile.
Les passages que l’on pourra lire ci-dessous reflètent ces phénomènes dans le cadre des vagues d’immigrations juives en provenance de l’Europe de l’Est où ces populations souffraient de pauvreté et de persécutions croissantes. Leur destination : l’Amérique, cet ailleurs rêvé, fantasmé, comme d’un paradis sur terre mais où le réveil à l’arrivée est souvent accompagné de ces chocs dont nous parlons plus haut, comme le chante avec humour le grand Aaron Lebedeff à quasiment la même époque. Ces textes sont extraits du roman Uncle Moses de l’écrivain Sholem Asch, publié en anglais (l’original est en yiddish) en 1920. L’auteur sait de quoi il parle : né en 1880 dans la petite ville polonaise de Kutno (où Napoléon était passé en 1807) dans une famille juive traditionaliste, il en partira au début des années 1900 et vivra successivement en Palestine, aux États-Unis, en France, de nouveau en Palestine puis aux États-Unis, qu’il quittera après le rejet par le lectorat juif de sa fameuse trilogie « chrétienne » (dont seul Le Nazaréen a été traduit en français et publié, une seule fois, en 1947) pour s’installer en Israël et décéder à Londres en 1957.
La version intégrale de la traduction en anglais du roman et celle de l’original en yiddish se trouvent à la fin de ce billet. On pourra en écouter ici la lecture intégrale en yiddish. Un film éponyme a été réalisé en 1932 par Sidney Goldin et Aubrey Scotto avec le grand acteur Maurice Schwartz dans le rôle principal, dont il existe une version en DVD (sous-titré en anglais).
Au début du roman, Asch décrit une famille juive originaire d’un shtetl de Pologne, Kuzmin, venue s’installer à New York quelques années auparavant, dans une vague d’émigration qui avait saisi quasiment tous les habitants du village partis à la suite d’un de leurs jeunes à l’esprit entreprenant et aux dents longues, Moses Melnik, garçon-boucher de son état. Arrivés au pays de leurs rêves, ils se retrouveront tous réduits, de l’instituteur à l’artisan et jusqu’à la lie de leur société d’antan, à travailler dans des conditions de quasi esclavagisme sous la coupe de cet homme devenu un employeur impitoyable que tout le monde appelle Oncle Moses – lui-même esclave de cette machine productiviste qui broie tout jusqu’à ses créateurs, comme l’illustrera quelques années plus tard le film Metropolis – dans un de ces sweatshops de l’époque, ateliers de confection où non seulement les ouvriers étaient exploités de façon éhontée mais où des accidents tragiques n’étaient pas rares.
Le père, Berrel, ne s’est pas intégré dans ce monde nouveau qu’il ne peut comprendre ; à l’inverse de sa femme, Gnendel, qui embrasse avec enthousiasme la mode et la culture (juive) américaines dans lesquelles baignent leurs enfants, il sait que ce n’est plus dans ce monde qu’il trouvera le bonheur. Il se réfugie dans la religion de ses ancêtres avec un sentiment de profonde solitude mêlé d’exaltation pour cet autre monde vers lequel il se rapproche. Son frère Aaron, lui aussi père de famille, essaie infructueusement d’échapper au travail mécanique dont il est esclave.
Leurs enfants – les trois filles Deborah, Rachel et Clara et le fils Charlie – n’ont pas bénéficié également de leur immigration. L’aînée, Deborah, a dû trouver immédiatement du travail pour aider sa famille, tandis que ses sœurs, et surtout son frère, le benjamin, ont pu faire des études ; grâce à son sacrifice, lui a toutes les chances de devenir avocat et de réaliser ainsi le rêve de toute mère juive archétypale, et les deux sœurs de trouver des partis bien établis socialement, tandis qu’elle est condamnée à devenir une vieille fille aigrie.
Et ainsi, aux sentiments d’aliénation qui se sont installés entre les deux parents puis entre les parents et leurs enfants se rajoutent aussi des tensions au sein de la deuxième génération, dues aux parcours différents des membres de la fratrie et aux sentiments d’injustice et de frustration qui en découlent.
Ces problèmes familiaux s’inscrivent dans un cadre plus large de conflits et de bouleversements parfois dramatiques que le roman développera ensuite avec subtilité, autant sur le plan social que psychologique. Oncle Moses, tel un parrain mafieux, plie impitoyablement tout le monde à ses besoins et à ses désirs : ses ouvriers, dont il tente de casser les velléités de syndication puis de grève, et qui seront organisés et représentés plus tard par le fils de Berrel, Charlie, devenu avocat ; Masha, la splendide nièce de Berrel à peine sortie de l’adolescence, très proche de son cousin Charlie, et que Moses, quinquagénaire solitaire en plein retour d’âge, épousera quasiment de force afin qu’elle lui donne des enfants. Mais rien ne se passera ensuite comme prévu.
Le théâtre de ces scènes de la vie des immigrés est la transposition de ce paradis sur terre qu’était malgré tout le shtetl du « vieux pays » (où Berrel souhaitera retourner « pour y mourir ») dans l’enfer que représente l’atelier dans ce nouveau monde tant désiré.
“That night Joseph’s home was besieged by relatives, near and distant, by neighbors and anxious members of the community, who came to ask news of the children and friends they had in America. If one of them had a son in Africa, in Brazil, or even in London, he came to ask news of the American. For what sort of place this America might be was not clearly understood in the village. In those days everything was called America. Just across the border, it seemed, was one vast city and the name of that city was America.
In America the inhabitants of the village found one another anew. On the Bowery stood a filthy, dust-laden three-story structure, covered with the dust that the elevated trains whirled up from the streets. And in the upper stories dwelt the entire village of Kuzmin. And the village sewed clothes for the American. And who might not be found here in this Bowery building? The Hebrew teachers of the town,—the leading citizens side by side with artisans and the scum of the village, —all sat on the top floor of the Bowery edifice, sewing and sewing away. And whosoever landed here, remained for the rest of his days. They knew but one round: in the morning from their homes to the Bowery; at night, from the Bowery to their homes. Over the entrance to the house on the Bowery was a small, dust-covered sign, which bore “the American’s” name: Moses Melnick.
Gnendel entered from the next room and although she was already a grandmother,—although she had been in America for twelve years and had had five children, whose pay she practically tore out of their hands, she still wore the same elegant wig with the three curls over her shining forehead, just as she had been accustomed to do at home, in Poland, when dressed in gala array for the synagogue on the Sabbath and other holy days. While America had had a devastating effect upon her husband Berrel, having in a very short time made a bent old man of him, it had affected Gnendel in quite the opposite way. Gnendel had grown younger in America. She had here become “liberal.” Instead of Zeena UreenaThe “Zeena Ureena” is a book, particularly intended for Yiddish women, containing an exposition of the Bible plentifully besprinkled with folk tales., which had been her spiritual food in her old home, she began here to read Yiddish newspapers and take an interest in everything. The children often took her along to the Jewish theatre, which she enjoyed immensely; she was fond, moreover, of attiring herself in her daughters’ cast-off shoes and altered dresses, so that, in a certain manner, she managed to follow the fashions, except that she was a trifle behind. Her husband’s piety and devotion to the sacred books, which at home had been her pride, had in America lost their value to her almost entirely. And because the machine had aged Berrel so quickly and bent him over, he lost all attraction and respect in her eyes. She made life hard for him in his declining years.
Deborah who well remembered her father as he had been in the old country, where he was the most highly respected ChassidMember of a Jewish sect founded in Poland about 1750, by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer Baal-Shem, to revive the strict practises of the earlier Chassidism. This earlier sect was founded about the third century B.C. by opponents of the Hellenistic innovations. It was devoted to the strict observance of the ritual of purification and separation (Webster’s New International Dictionary, under Chasidim). in the town with a splendid home,—who had lived through the bitter times of advancing poverty that had forced him to move his family to America, when she was already a grown-up girl, felt, more than the rest of the children, a certain respect for her father. Her father’s cry of “Deborah, dear!” summoned the remembrance of their former home in the little Polish town, where her parents called her by that same name. She paused, and was on the point of going to help her mother with the breakfast, as she was once wont to do, but as she looked at her brother who was dressing in such calm, leisurely fashion, she was provoked.
“Well, everything here goes upside down.”
Deborah had teen the first of the children to earn money and bring it home to her mother; she had found employment from the very first day on which she landed. Wherefore she imagined that she was the real mistress of the household. She grudged her brothers and sisters their opportunity to attend the public schools—one of them for a year, the other for two years. She had been obliged to toil from the very first, whence she got the notion that she supported the rest. Her brothers and sisters indeed had now been working for a long time; it was Charlie whom she envied most. He was the only boy and had come to America while yet a child, thus having gone to the public schools longer than the others. Today he was a grown-up fellow, yet he did not work “steady,’” in the evenings attending “preparatory school” and in the daytime sporadically picking up whatever work presented itself. His sister simply could not endure seeing that he would soon be ready to enter college; maybe he would finally become a lawyer, thus gratifying his ambition. She felt convinced that all this was due to her self-sacrificing youthful toil,—that because of him her lips and hands had become so coarse, and her neck so thin that the veins showed through. Because of him she had remained an old maid.
Aaron stared at his sister-in-law in amazement. Was this the pious woman who in the old country used to lead the women in prayer at the synagogue and come running in to the House of Study every other day to discover whether a certain piece of meat or a fowl were fit for food from the Mosaic dietary standpoint? She had always had questions of food purity to be settled. What had become of her during the few years that she had been in America?
Gnendel, however, as we have seen, had become “liberal.” Berrel’s home was divided into two camps. One party was composed of the father and the two older daughters,—Deborah the ‘old maid’ and Rachel, who had married a Galician Jew. These two remembered their father from his prosperous days, and still respected him. The other party was comprised of the mother and the two younger children, Charlie and Clara, who had completed their bringing up in America. They were fond of their mother, who returned their affection. The parties clashed at every meal.
Berrel himself could not understand what had come over his wife since she had landed. But he was used to this bepuzzlement. There were so many things he did not understand in America. He simply got used to them and stopped asking questions. The twelve years that he had been in America were lived in solitude, in abandonment amidst his family circle. He had none to converse with. Not only were his children estranged from him, but the very wife who had borne him the children and with whom he had shared so many years of his life, became a stranger to him here in America. This spiritual solitude drove the man to religious ecstasy. He sought life in his religion. This world he had already lost; so he desired the next world, for which he was preparing, to be richer and more glorious. He did not eat the same bread as the rest of his family. Saturday evening he would go to a friend who lived on a Jewish street and who dealt in kosher butter and cheese. He would recite prayers with him, would purchase a cheese and a half- pound of butter and would live upon this fare from one week to the next. It was of this food that he now ate his breakfast.
A quarter of an hour later Gnendel’s kitchen was quiet and empty. Everybody had gone off to work.
When Aaron and Berrel reached the street Aaron looked closely at his brother and for the first time fully realized how old Berrel had become during his brief residence in America. He was already an aged man with a grey beard and stooping shoulders. Yet what a short time ago, it seemed, had this man been Berrel the Chassid of Kuzmin, with a jet-black beard, blooming red cheeks and black, sparkling eyes! Berrel the Chassid, who was so active in all community affairs,—a veritable “live-wire.” He had been a merchant, had ridden to Ger to the Chief Rabbi and had been a deep student. And was this he? It seemed to Aaron that he had two brothers,—that Berrel the Chassid had remained in the little Polish, town and that this one at his side was a decrepit old operative, a complaining, broken-down old fellow.
Berrel noticed Aaron’s glances and knew the thoughts that stirred behind them.
“But, Berrel,” smiled Aaron, “how can you …”
Aaron choked back his query.
“Bah, the end isn’t so far off. I ask nothing more of the world. I’ve had enough.”
And now Aaron could understand why, amid his servitude, his brother had not lost hope and courage. Not until now had he discovered the reason for his brother’s calm contentment, for the untainted clearness of his eyes. Now he saw it all. His brother believed in a future life, and the nearer he came to the next world, the happier and calmer he grew. It seemed to him that he could see his brother sailing to the shores of an island where there were awaiting him stored-up treasures that he had accumulated during his life, and that his enjoyment of them was soon to begin. The nearer he came to the island, the happier and calmer he grew. Belief in the future world infused the brother with strength to endure so placidly and patiently the vicissitudes of the present. For the first time Aaron envied his brother his belief, and he began to seek in his own life something analogous to his brother’s faith. But he could discover nothing. His life was empty—only poverty, monotony, and barren, slavish toil for his daily bread. . . .”
Voir aussi les articles (liste générée automatiquement) :