What do I know of horror? I mean real horror. Nothing. I’ve been blessed beyond measure, for the freedom I take for granted has been bought at a price. I have – I feel – little if any right to speak of evil and the justice of God, because while I may know a little bit of something of the justice of God, I do not know real evil. At least not of the kind for which you are about to read.
Before I ever write or speak of “evil” there is one little book I return to again and again. It is Elie Wiesel’s Night. I return to this book to hold myself accountable. To keep me from falling into the trap of turning evil and God’s justice into a theoretical, academic and superficial thing.
When I picked up this book today I was reminded once again why millions of individuals – my grandfather included – were willing to fight and risk so much to stop the evil’s of Nazi Germany. It was so that those humans who were made less then humanoid would know that the world would not be silent to the atrocities which they endured.
And that God Himself would not silent.
Why did my grandfather fight in WWII? It was to put an end to what you are about to read. Here is Elie Wiesel’s first hand account.
The baton pointed to the left. I took half a step forward. I first wanted to see where they would send my father. Were he to have gone to the right, I would have run after him.
The baton, once more, moved to the left. A weight lifted from my heart.
We did not know, as yet, which was the better side, right or left, which road led to prison and which to the crematoria. Still, I has happy, I was near my father. Our procession continued slowly to move forward.
Another inmate came over to us:
“Yes,” someone answered.
“Poor devils, you are heading for the crematorium.”
He seemed to be telling the truth. Not far from us, flames, huge flames, were rising from a ditch. Something was being burned there. A truck drew close and unloaded its hold: small children. Babies! Yes, I did see this, with my own eye… children thrown into the flames. (Is it any wonder that ever since then, sleep tends to elude me.)
So that was where we were going. A little farther on, there was another, larger pit for adults.
I pinched myself: Was I still alive? Was I awake? How was it possible that men, women, and children were being burned and that the world kept silent? No. All this could not be real. A nightmare perhaps… Soon I would wake up with a start, my heart pounding, and find that I was back in the room of my childhood, with my books…
My father’s voice tore me from my daydream:
“What a shame, a shame that you did not go with your mother… I saw many children your age to with their mothers…”
His voice was terribly sad. I understood that he did not wish to see what they would do to me. He did not wish to see his only son go up in flames.
My forehead was covered with cold sweat. Still, I told him that I could not believe that human beings were burned in our times; the world would never tolerate such crimes…
“The world? The world is not interested in us. Today, everything is possible, even the crematoria…” His voice broke.
“Father,” I said. “If that is true, then I don’t want to wait. I’ll run into the electrified barbed wire. That would be easier than a slow death in the flames.”
He didn’t answer. He was weeping. His body was shaking. Everybody around us was weeping. Someone began to recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. I don’t know whether, during the history of the Jewish people, men have every before recited Kaddish for themselves.
“Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba…. May His name be celebrated and sanctified…” whispered my father.
For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?
We continued our march. We were coming closer and closer to the pit, from which an infernal heat was rising. Twenty more steps. If I was going to kill myself, this was the time. Our column had only some fifteen steps to go. I bit my lips so that my father would not hear my teeth chattering. Ten more steps. Eight. Seven. We were walking slowly, as one follows a hearse, our own funeral procession. Only four more steps. Three. There it was now, very close to us, the pit and its flames. I gathered all that remained of my strength in order to break rank and throw myself onto the barbed wire. Deep down, I was saying good-bye to my father, to the universe, and, against my will, I found myself whispering the words, “Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba… May His name be exalted and sanctified…” My heart was about to burst. There. I was face-to-face with the Angel of Death…
No. Two steps from the pit, we were ordered to turn left and herded into barracks.
Then Elie breaks into an emotive poem:
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 that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the 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.
Night. There was once another “night”. Another peasent Jew – an innocent man if ever there were one – was crucified on a Roman cross. His final moments are told like this:
It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining, then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?“
And God was silent then too.