Reflections on Elie Wiesel’s Night

Reflections on Elie Wiesel’s Night

Listening to Elie Wiesel’s Night has rocked me deeply…I think for the first time in my life listening to such horror, such pain, my mind imagined it in a personal way…the experience has been profoundly painful. Just as a listener, I am humbled to think anyone endured such an experience.

Listening to a 16-year old author describe laying helpless, listening to his father’s cries, unable to answer, as the SS beat his father, sick with dysentery, is a haunting description. I cannot begin to imagine the guilt, the pain, the suffering with which such a man must live for the rest of his days. To imagine the face of my father, and listen to that account, remembering how unsure I felt during my late adolescence, I cannot fathom being able to survive such loss. Why human beings would do such things to each other?

The story was profound. When I started to listen to Night, I wondered why in our Religions of the World class it was assigned…now that I’m done with it, I think about how the author lost his faith in God. He started as a young mystic, eager to study the Kabbalah, full of mystery and wonder at the nature of divinity. Then, as a young man, coming face to face with true horror, watching infants thrown into fiery ditches; infants that were alive when thrown into piles of burning children, how he lost his love of God. Suddenly I am struck with how much such oppression, pain and atrocity must affect a people of faith and devotion.

This is the legacy of history; millions of individual voices coming towards us from the past, individuals like us, whose experiences, whose memories are our inheritance. So now I wonder, what inheritance did the atrocities of the Holocaust leave the Jewish faith? It must be profound. I don’t know that I could ever possibly understand such a thing. Its too big.

The edition on audible includes Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and to hear his words speak of memory, and of responsibility after hearing his account introduced new understanding for me of what the responsibility of history really means.

The ability to engage in such murder and persecution starts with thoughts of hatred and exclusion. Every time a kid calls something “gay” and isn’t challenged, every time that a politician thinks “illegal” immigrants are responsible for our economic problems, each time that anyone thinks about a group of humanity in terms of isolation, separation, framing them as “other” we start that process of dehumanization. Yes, such moments are but the infancy of real oppression, but that is where it begins in our hearts, minds and souls.

People of conscience ought never to allow such language or thinking to stand unchallenged. Never. Not even in passing. Still, we are but humans, and rarely do we live fully to our hopes. Its my profound wish that as I struggle to live just as a listener to such sorrow and horrible murder and suffering that it fills me with enough courage to never sit in silence, and that maybe as I work on myself, I learn how to inspire such courage in others.

As Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

(The whole speech can be found at: http://www.pbs.org/eliewiesel/nobel/index.html)

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