Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Elie Wiesel's Night

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my Faith forever.

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

-Elie Wiesel, Night, 32

[Wiesel] had seen his mother, a beloved little sister, and all his family except his father disappear into an oven fed with living creatures. As for his father, the child was forced to be a spectator day after day to his martyrdom, his agony, and his death.

It was then that I understood what had first drawn me to the young Jew: that look, as of a Lazarus risen from the dead, yet still a prisoner within the grim confines where he had strayed, stumbling among the shameful corpses. For him, Nietzsche's cry expressed an almost physical reality: God is dead, the God of love, of gentleness, of comfort, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, has vanished forevermore, beneath the gaze of this child, in the smoke of human holocaust. . . . On that day, horrible even among those days of horror, when the child watched the hanging of another child, who, he tells us, had the face of a sad angel, he heard someone behind him groan: " 'Where is God? Where is He? Where can He be now?' and a voice within me answered: 'Where? Here He is--He has been hanged here, on these gallows.' "

And I, who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner, whose dark eyes still held the reflection of that angelic sadness which had appeared one day upon the face of the hanged child? What did I say to him? Did I speak of that other Jew, his brother, who may have resembled him--the Crucified, whose Cross has conquered the world? Did I affirm that the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine, and that the conformity between the Cross and the suffering of men was in my eyes the key to that impenetrable mystery whereon the faith of his childhood had perished? Zion, however, has risen up again from the crematories and the charnel houses. The Jewish nation has been resurrected from among its thousands of dead. . . . We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Eternal is the Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to Him. This is what I should have told this Jewish child. But I could only embrace him, weeping.

-Francois Mauriac, foreword to Night

I read Elie Wiesel's Night for the first time this past week. The autobiographical account of his survival (or destruction) in the Nazi death camps. Winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.

Once more, I am shaken and undone.

For the first time, in a long time, I begin to believe that maybe, maybe, the Holy Land is a gift. A miracle. Where else would we have had them go, the survivors, those turned to ash, yet still breathing? What else would we have had them do? I have always wished them peace, but maybe peace is more fervent than that. Do I wish them well-being? Life, and laughter, and happiness, in their own land? Away from fear and torment? Do I wish it as fervently as I wish it for the Palestinians? -- those who wear the star today, made of identification cards, ghettos, and violence ["'The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it. . . .' (Poor father! Of what then did you die?)" (Night 9)]. My heart can maybe feel two kinds of pain (the Holocaust has always torn my soul apart), but can it breathe two kinds of joy? The Arab earth of olive trees; the Jewish homeland. My foundations shift, crack, crumble. And I long for peace. An end to humanity's destruction of itself. An end to our continual murdering of God. The Eternal may not be held by any grave, but that does not make the death any less real. The death of God. On a tree, a cross, a gallows. In the ovens. How many times have we killed the Divine? How many times will we do it again? When will we stop?

2 comments:

Jordan Magnuson said...

A good post. I must read Night.

Mideast Magnus said...

profound. this really is the difficulty of trying to believe in and work for peace - we must love everyone, be for everyone, make room in our hearts and our world for everyone, understand the pain and suffering and longings of all people. and there must be compromise, coexistence.

thanks for this post.