I mentioned in my post last week about spiritual reading during Lent that one of the first things I planned to read this Lent was Elie Wiesel’s Night. I did – in a single sitting; I picked up the book and could not put it down until I was finished.
Night is the first book Weisel wrote (it was written in 1958, although I read a new 2006 translation of it), a book the New York Times described as a “slim volume of terrifying power.” The book records Weisel’s experience of being expelled from his home and of the hell he endured in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
It is one thing to read about the Holocaust from someone who writes from a distance. One thing to learn the facts and hear about the atrocities second-hand. It is quite another to read the first-hand account of this man who was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home to the concentration camps. To listen to Weisel describe seeing babies thrown into flames, watching a young boy being hung in the square, hearing the cries of his father as he lay dying and not being able to go to him.
Is it any wonder that Weisel, who had been so devout in his faith before being dragged from his home, reached a point in the camps when prayer became difficult? He describes a Rosh Hashanah in the camp, a day that previously had dominated his life, a day on which he had pleaded for forgiveness for his sins. Of that day in the camp he writes
But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger.
Although he questioned where God was in this suffering, somewhere there, he knew God was there. On the day he watched three men being hung, someone behind him whispered, “For God’s sake, where is God?” Weisel writess that “from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where – hanging here from this gallows.'”
I read an interview with Weisel that occurred about fifteen years ago. He was asked how he and God are doing these days. He responded
We still have a few problems! But even in the camps, I never divorced God. After the war, I went on praying to God. I was angry. I protested. I’m still protesting—and occasionally, I’m still angry. But it’s not because of the past, but the present. When I see victims of a tragedy—and especially children—I say to God, “Don’t tell me that you have nothing to do with this. You are everywhere—you are God.”
This is a painful book, but it is a testimony worth reading.