Monday, June 23, 2008

Watching With Wiesel 3



As I've already said this marvellously moving little autobiography reads like a novel.  Unfortunately, it's not a novel - it's true.  It tells the sad story of one man's experience of being an inmate in Auschwitz.  Elie Wiesel is a wonderful writer whose spare style pares all details down to the absolute essential.  It were as if he had distilled this story in some inner distillery to arrive at the heart of the evil truth of the Nazi genocide.   It is as if the stench of the grossest evil rises from his words.

This book is a book of endings - the end of of innocence; the end of imagination; the end of childhood; the end of dreams and hopes; the end of life; the end of the world; the end of the very universe as it were.  Here is an insight into the trauma the 15 year old Elie went through:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.  Never shall I forget the smoke.  Never shall I forget the small faces of children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.  Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.  Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.  Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.  Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.  Never.  (Night, 34)

What sad words.  What beautifully sad words for such an ugly occurrence.  What beautifully appropriate words to sing of the evilest of things.  His words are a scripture of despair.

Again this marvellously apt description of the young fifteen year old boy's inner existential state:

The night had passed completely.  The morning star shone in the sky.  I too had become a different person.  The student of the Talmud, the child I was, had been consumed by the flames.  All that was left was a shape that resembled me.  My soul had been invaded - and devoured - by a black flame. (Ibid., 37)

Perhaps the bleakest part of this little book is the forced marches of the poor wretched inmates from Auschwitz as the Russian front drew closer.  These poor wretches were forced to march on very little to no rations, eating snow for water to a new camp away from the Russians.  Many many hundreds of these poor wretches died on the forced marches.  Then that sad sad story - I am forced to repeat the adjective for emphasis as even one word is not enough to capture the experience for the reader.  A friend of Elie's had managed to bring his violin with him - the instrument that manages to carry his soul that his poor frail body failed to.  The words are so apt:

Those were my thoughts when 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, on 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... 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 could never play again.

I shall never forget Juliek.  How could I forget this concert given before an audience of the dead and the dying... I don't know how long he played.  I was overcome by sleep.  When I awoke at daybreak, I saw Juliek facing me, hunched over, dead.  Next to him lay his violin, an eerily poignant little corpse.  (Ibid., 95)

Saddest of all is the fact that when all these things were going on there were many many people who saw, who stopped and stared, who refused to believe the evidence of their own eyes, who refused to see, who just ignored the most heinous of crimes being committed in front of them. 

There is so much more that I could say about this wonderful little book, but I will leave it to you to read.  Elie's account of his father's death is very moving.  He could not even cry because he was "out of tears." ((bid., 112)

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