The first time I met the writer Jakov Lind, who recently died in London of Lou Gehrig's disease, was at a resplendent reception in New York in the spring of l966. It was the first big recognition here for the generation of German writers who had come of age during World War II. In l966 the memories of the Holocaust were still raw, and Saul Bellow, who had been invited to the party, felt ambivalent about being the American writer welcoming the group. He also didn't want to snub the occasion, and finally decided to send his wife, Susan, and me in his place.
Few German-speaking Jewish writers had survived the war — Marcel Reich-Ranicki was one, and Jakov Lind another. The Holocaust had uprooted Jakov from his Viennese childhood, where, as he wrote in his memoir "Counting My Steps," "The attic of my 19th-century soul is stuffed with weird obsessions. Future, past, hope, justice, Socialism, Everything." His bookish childhood, with its high-flown, 19th-century ideals, abruptly vanished, replaced by the new Nazi reality. His family (they miraculously survived, and Jakov rejoined them in Israel after the war) had sent him on a children's transport to Holland. When the Nazis conquered the country, Jakov became an adolescent on the run. He figured that the road to France would be too dangerous, but that the Germans wouldn't be looking for a Jewish boy heading toward Berlin. His luck, he would say to me after we became friends, was that he had the husky looks of a Polish peasant, including an upturned flat nose, but he constantly feared that his circumcision would be discovered in a random medical inspection.
In his subsequent memoir "Numbers," Jakov described shoveling snow in London after the war while trying to become a writer. "I even began to like the work ... and the mind is free to wander on anything else. Snow, alas, is a hazardous occupation. From one day to the next … everything on which my life depended could be washed away by the rain." He was always to live as though the abyss was one step away. We struck up our friendship after Jakov realized that, due to a series of odd circumstances I had been an American teenager living in Germany after World War II. Over the next 40 years we would have tea in the afternoon together at the Chelsea Hotel, where he had an apartment (he spent part of the year in London, part in New York, and part on the Spanish island Deya), and talked about the nightmarish way Germany looked when the fighting ended.
By l966, Jakov's reputation as one of the greatest contemporary writers in the German language was recognized on both sides of the Atlantic. (He later switched to English.) "Soul of Wood" and "Landscape in Concrete" depicted a grotesque, ferocious world gone mad. His books of stories, memoirs, and plays, now shockingly out of print, are threaded with sex — but not sex as an escape from a bored existence, rather sex as the only true means of survival.
Jakov could start out at a party pontificating about "The Story of O," but soon his attention would wander, and he would start sniffing to see if there was some soup or cheese nearby. The soup mattered. And then he would drift into a Hebrew quote from the Bible. That was our Zionist Jakov. In many ways he had the ill luck of Job. Both his wife, Faith, and his son, Simon, died young of cancer. He needed family, and remained close to his daughter, Oona, and his grandchildren.
In l983 Günter Grass spoke at the New School about the responsibility of the writer. Mr. Grass began to accuse himself of having been part of the Nazi Youth group, then he turned to Joyce Carol Oates and asked her why Americans weren't worried that they might be turning into Nazis the way Germans did in l933. A student in the audience yelled, "Hey Grass, there are no fascists in Greenwich Village — that's not what we do here!" Mr. Grass looked bewildered and continued his rant. Jakov, who was also there, and who understood New York as Mr. Grass did not, finally got up and said wearily, "Enough, Günter — we don't want your guilt — it's over." Later I watched the two of them go off for a drink together. Their experiences in the war had been diametrically opposed — they certainly didn't see the world in the same way — but they were bound uneasily together from living through the same time.
A "Salut für Jakov Lind" will be held at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, March 13. Oona Lind Napier will accept the Theodor Kramer Prize in her father's honor.
Ms. Solomon, cultural correspondent for El País, novelist, and essayist, is the author of the memoir "Arriving Where We Started."