Elie_Wiesel

 

Deported to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 14, Elie Wiesel wrote Night in 1958 as the story of what he at that time continued to experience as the death of his faith in God because of what he saw and went through in the camps.  His faith returned, but this book remains an important testimony to what happened.  Here are selections from it, translated by Marion Wiesel (Hill and Wang [Farrar, Straus and Giroux] NY [1958] 2006).

 

[Elie Wiesel at the age of about fourteen is forced to march rapidly with a large group of other prisoners for miles and miles (the Nazis were fleeing imminent defeat at the hands of Allied soldiers, intending to conceal what they had done).  Wiesel was half frozen and had been nursing bloody foot.] “We were the masters of nature, the masters of the world. We had transcended everything—death, fatigue, our natural needs.  We were stronger than cold or hunger, stronger than guns and the desire to die, doomed and rootless, nothing but numbers, we were the only men on earth.” (p. 87)

 

[E.W. awakens his father.]  He woke with a start.  He sat up, bewildered, stunned, like an orphan.  He looked all around him, taking it all in as if he had suddenly decided to make an inventory of his universe, to determine where he was and how and why he was there.  Then he smiled.

“I shall always remember that smile.  What world did it come from?”  (p. 90)

 

[After fighting to be able to breathe, buried in a pile of dying and dead prisoners in a barrack to which they had been mercilessly marched, he was surprised by his friend.]  “I heard the sound of a violin.  A violin in a dark barrack where the dead were piled on top of the living.  Who was this madman who played the violin here. At the edge of his own grave?  Or was it a hallucination?

It had to be Juliek.

He was playing a fragment of a Beethoven concerto.  Never before had I heard such a beautiful sound.  In such silence.

How had he succeeded in disengaging himself?  To slip out from under my body without my feeling it?

The darkness enveloped us.  All I could hear was the violin, and it was as if Juliek’s soul had become his bow.  He was playing his life.  His whole being was gliding over the strings.  His unfulfilled hopes.  His charred past, his extinguished future.  He played that which he would never play again.

I shall never forget Juliek.  How could I forget this concert given before an audience of the dead and dying?  Even today, when I hear that particular piece by Beethoven, my eyes close and out of the darkness emerges the pale and melancholy face of my PoIish comrade bidding farewell to an audience of dying men.

I don’t know how long he played.  I was overcome by sleep.  Why I awoke at daybreak, I saw Juliek facing me, hunched over, dead.  Next to him lay his violin, trampled, an eerily poignant little corpse.”  (pp. 94-95)

The last of my recollections of Elie Wiesel that I would mention is the experience of watching and hearing him deliver three lectures at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, during the late 1970s. I was teaching public speaking during those years and was well aware of the importance of eye contact. Our beloved brother Elie stayed in constant contact with his elegantly written text, never raising his eyes for one moment during the lectures. The audience thereby experienced a unique intimacy with him, as he wrapped us with ethical love into the sacred space of his discourse. He reached out to us through the exquisitely sensitive humanitarian writing which had been created precisely for us. Without his sublime focus, we would have lost something ineffable.