I had put up a couple of religious oriented posts a couple weeks back. Discussions and comments flew back and forth around work, the Blog-City community, and email. I basically laid down the groundwork as to why I have lost a good portion of my die-hard faith in religion and religious figures. I could not even begin to scratch the surface of a difficult life. This book is absolutely heart-wrenching.
Referred to as “a slim volume of terrifying power” by the New York Times, this book from start to finish is only 109 pages. Trust me when I say you will not read a more gut gripping 109 pages though.
The book is a memoir of Elie Wiesel’s journey from a young idealistic Jewish boy to a hardened concentration camp survivor. Separated from his Mother and Sister, he attempts to survive with his Father. Amazing, this tale is. According to the preface by Robert McAfee Brown, Elie committed himself to a 10 year silence after being released from his final concentration camp, Buchenwald, in 1945. His memories were too painful to speak of and his nightmares needed no explanation because to speak of them would be to encourage more thought of his hellacious days and nights.
What is completely frustrating is how, towards the beginning of Elie’s tale, he tells of a foreign Jew who had been expelled from his small town of Sighet into the hands of the Gestapo. The Gestapo then brought all of them into a forest with a mass grave, executing all of them. The survivor had been shot in the leg and feigned death until they had left. What willpower it must take to pretend to be dead while pinned under several dozen REAL corpses. Upon the Gestapo’s departure from the scene, the survivor made his way back to Sighet and began warning all the Jews of the town of the horrors that were surely on the way to them. As those who laughed at Noah while building his ark, all the townsfolk assumed him to be mentally incompetent and took his hollers as incoherent babblings of a crazy man. This was in 1941.
By 1943, things took a dramatic downturn for the town of Sighet, however. Within a matter of days, things went from absolutely no idea of how close the Germans were to the town teeming with German troops. Even then, there was a veneer of uncomfort but not of all-out terror. The Germans seemed to be content to let the Jews of Sighet go about their business with no interference. The Wiesels still did not leave during this time, assuming that all was well and there was no need for worry.
Shortly after this, the Germans began to move the Jews out of the city into a ghetto they had made. The evacuations took place street by street. The ghetto only lasted for awhile until all Jews were made to pile into trains by the dozens and then were deported to Birkenau, the first concentration camp he mentions.
The book is so very difficult to read because I found myself battling an internal war between my morbid curiousity and my shock and horror with each instance of hatred that Elie discusses. My eyes were wet just about the entire time. It’s impossible to read of such atrocities and not bat an eye. The entire book is a slap in the face, a kick in the testes, a knife thrust into your heart. However, there are a few passages that I would like to share just to give you an idea of some of the horrors he speaks of.
“Another time we had to load Diesel engines onto trains supervised by German soldiers. Idek’s nerves were on edge. He was restraining himself with great difficulty. Suddenly, his frenzy broke out. The victim was my father.
“You lazy old devil!” Idzek began to yell. “Do you call that work?”
And he began to beat him with an iron bar. At first my father crouched under the blows, then he broke in two, like a dry tree struck by lightning, and collapsed.
I had watched the whole scene without moving. I kept quiet. In fact I was thinking of how to get farther away so that I would not be hit myself. What is more, any anger I felt at that moment was directed, not against the Kapo, but against my father. I was angry with him, for not knowing how to avoid Idek’s outbreak. That is what concentration camp life had made of me.”
I am very close to my Father and I can’t comprehend seeing this type of atrocity happen in front of my eyes while taking no action. Elie apologizes and explains his thinking several times throughout the book and those of us who have never been in this kind of situation have absolutely no right to judge his feelings. There is a definite feel that Elie has subjected himself to a nonstop guilt trip because of these feelings, although he seems powerless to stop them.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I have questioned my faith and continue to even today. Elie has several passages in the book where he asks questions about God and his absence from these death camps, from these horrors in front of him.
“Why, but why should I bless Him? In ever fiber I rebelled. Because he had had thousands of children burned in His pits? Because he kept six crematories working night and day, on Sundays and feast days? Because in His great might He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many factories of death? How could I say to Him: “Blessed art Thou, Eternal, Master of the Universe, Who chose us from among the races to be tortured day and night, to see our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end in the crematory? Praised be Thy Holy Name, Thou Who has chosen us to be butchered on Thine altar?”
The reactions to the inmates to rumors of rescue, of a respite from these horrid acts;
Two days after my operation, there was a rumor going round the camp that the front had suddenly drawn nearer. The Red Army, they said, was advancing on Buna; it was only a matter of hours now.
We were already accustomed to rumors of this kind. It was not the first time a false prophet had foretold to us peace-on-earth, negotiations-with-the-Red-Cross-for-our-release, or other false rumors….And often we believed them. It was an injection of morphine.
But this time these prophecies seemed more solid. During these last few nights, we had heard the guns in the distance.
My neighbor, the faceless one, said:
“Don’t let yourself be fooled with these illusions. Hitler has made it very clear that he will annihilate all the Jews before the clock strikes twelve, before they can hear the last stroke.”
I burst out:
“What does it matter to you? Do we have to regard Hitler as a prophet?”
His glazed, faded eyes looked at me. At last he said in a weary voice:
“I’ve got more faith in Hitler than anyone else. He’s the only one who’s kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.
How about the ferocity with which food was devoured? This particular passage made my eyes wet;
A piece fell into our wagon. I decided that I would not move. Anyway, I knew that I would never have the strength to fight with a dozen savage men! Not far away I noticed an old man dragging himself along on all fours. He was trying to disengage himself from the struggle. He held one hand to his heart. I thought at first he had received a blow in the chest. Then I understood; he had a bit of bread under his shirt. With remarkable speed he drew it out and put it to his mouth. His eyes gleamed; a smile, like a grimace, lit up his dead face. And was immediately extinguished. A shadow had just loomed up near him. The shadow threw itself upon him. Felled to the ground, stunned with blows, the old man cried:
“Meir. Meir, my boy! Don’t you recognize me? I’m your father…you’re hurting me…you’re killing your father! I’ve got some bread…for you too…for you too…”
He collapsed. His fist was still clenched around a small piece. He tried to carry it to his mouth. But the other one threw himself upon him and snatched it. The old man again whispered something, let out a rattle, and died amid the general indifference. His son searched him, took the bread, and began to devour it. He was not able to get very far. Two men had seen and hurled themselves upon him. Others joined in. When they withdrew, next to me were two corpses, side by side, the father and the son.
I was fifteen years old.
The evening of his father’s death;
“My son, some water…I’m burning…My stomach…”
“Quiet, over there!” yelled the officer.
“Eliezer,” went on my father, “some water…”
The officer came up to him and shouted at him to be quiet. Buy my father did not hear him. He went on calling me. The officer dealt him a violent blow on the head with his truncheon.
I did not move. I was afraid. My body was afraid of also receiving a blow.
Then my father made a rattling noise and it was my name: “Eliezer.”
I could see that he was still breathing- spasmodically.
I did not move.
When I got down after roll call, I could see his lips trembling as he murmured something. Bending over him, I stayed gazing at him for over an hour, engraving into myself the picture of his blood-stained face, his shattered skull. Then I had to go to bed. I climbed into my bunk, above my father, who was still alive. It was January 28, 1945.
I can’t fathom the depths of grief, of hatred, of anger in all of that. And to think that some people still claim the Holocaust was all a huge lie. Six million Jews being slaughtered, all a figment of the imagination. Baffles the mind.
I’m sorry to have brought anyone down with the post/review but I think it’s absolutely vital to remember these experiences and to let those people who have dealt with these horrible things vent to whoever will listen. To bury ones’ head in the sand and not acknowledge the amount of hatred that exists in the world is just stupid. It is out there, it is eternal. There was such hatred back in the 40’s and there will be hatred for the next 100 years. There is nothing we can do about it, but as was once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We MUST be cognizant of these things in order to ensure that the wool is never pulled over our eyes.
posted Thu, 12-16-04