Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) is the best-known Argentine writer of the twentieth century. Borges wasn’t Jewish, but he wrote essays, poems, and stories dealing with many aspects of Jewish history and culture. His relationship to Jewish culture was—like many aspects of his work—contradictory. His interest in Jewishness was encyclopedic and dilettantish, cursory and profound. He was capable of deep dives into Talmud and kabbalah but also loved free association, false encyclopedia entries and coincidence.
“The Secret Miracle” was first published in Sur (1943), and then included in his collection of short stories, Ficciones (1944), at the height of the Second World War. Argentina was neutral for most of the war, and would only join the Allies in March 1945, in a largely symbolic (some would say hollow) gesture. Argentina had a strong history of Germanophilia, and Argentines were deeply divided on Hitler and Nazism.
“The Secret Miracle” tells the story of a fictional Czech scholar, Jaromir Hladik, matrileaneally Jewish, who is persecuted by the Nazis for attributing aspects of Lutheran theology to Jewish sources. The story ironizes the Nazi myth of blood purity and the Nazis’ revisionist history of civilization.
This kit offers resources to (a) provide background on some of the intertextual references embedded in the story, (b) help students understand how irony works in the story, and (c) spark questions and discussion about how intertextuality and irony work together to create the highly ambiguous ending, the meaning of which will hinge on how we choose to interpret the meaning of eternity.
Cover image: Book cover of Jorge Luis Borges's El Aleph, 1949.