The Yiddish version of Elie Wiesel’s classic Holocaust autobiography “Night” was entitled “And the World Remained Silent”. It was rejected by every major French and U.S. publisher despite having been translated into French and English. The Yiddish version began:
“In the beginning there was faith – which is childish; trust- which is vain; and illusion- which is dangerous.
We believed in God, trusted in man, and lived with the illusion that every one of us has been entrusted with a sacred spark from the Shekhinah’s flame; that every one of us carries in his eyes and in his soul a reflection of God’s image.
That was the source if not the cause of all our ordeals.”
“Night” begins with the story of Moishe the Beadle, a penurious Kabbalist in Sighet, Transylvania from whom the 13 year-old author learned the Zohar and faith. He was the canary in the mine, who had witnessed the Gestapo, but he was not believed.
The Yiddish version of the book ends:
“I am not so naive as to believe that this slim volume will change the course of history or shake the conscience of the world.
Books no longer have the power they once did.
Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow.”
After being liberated from Buchenwald, “Night” ends as follows:
“One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto
From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me.
The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.”
“Night” is a powerful book about humanity, survival, hope, power, probabilities, faith, belief, God, love, and above all family. By virtue of forced gender separation this is a father and son tale. It is more compelling than the crematorium and the walking cadavers at Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald. Both the Yiddish version and “Night” tell of the author ignoring the call of his father to come to him so that he could tell him something, but not moving for fear of being beaten, while is father was beaten unconscious. He is otherwise a very loyal son, unlike others who for the sake of their own survival leave their father behind to be killed. Survival tests the boundary of love and faith.
Hope is the heroin of the powerful few over the masses. Upon arriving at Auschwitz one of the veteran inmates greets a hysterical new arrival:
“Shut up, you moron, or I’ll tear you to pieces! You should have hanged yourselves rather than come here. Didn’t you know what was in store for you here in Auschwitz? You didn’t know? In 1944?”
Those in Hungary and Transylvania did however avoid the brunt of the Final Solution until later in the war. Even in the camps where death was daily and a relief from survival the slim hope of not being killed supported a structure and hierarchy for extermination. It transcended faith, which was trampled and obliderated. To support God, man had to be at fault, with the resurrection of the Shekhinah in Exile only with the reformation of man. A chicken and egg problem.
Today the question is Zionism versus Judaism in the post-survivor generations. Where is the borderline between “Never Again” and predation? It is beyond religious Judaism, because the lesson of Hitler was Jew- assimilated or not- will be exterminated. Mr. Wiesel’s cynicism in the Yiddish version of this book, continues the cyclicality of the Jewish Diaspora in search of a peaceful homeland.