I carry a deep appreciation for the power of words and for the capacity of an author to move us from where we are to another place. I normally find the journey compelling and enjoyable. Today I sit at my desk claimed by conflicting emotions. Elie Wiesel's book Night carries the reader into the time defined by Adolf Hitler, the SS, and the dark reality of concentration camps. I want to be able to say that I like the book, but that it not the emotion that claims my heart. It is probably more accurate to say that I am stirred and disturbed by the words and images that flow from the pages.
Wiesel draws us close to the nameless SS solders who in their silent consent to follow orders with an inhumane efficiency and brutality become as culpable for the deaths of the Jews as those who issued the orders. One cannot help but feel the soulless sense of evil that empowers one group in humanity to try to destroy another. It seems that the dark black uniforms reflected the blackened hearts of those who claimed them.
The smell of death, the heat from the flames, the agony of memory, and the grief of loss permeates the lives the whose who were condemned to life and death within the barbed wire fences. It seems one of the victims of the horrific story is faith. The deep cry echoing in the darkness called people from the strength of the Torah into the abyss of abandonment and doubt. Like the original translator, I could not help but hear both the promise and desperation in a poignant moment in the text:"For God's sake, where is God?" And from within me, I heard a voice answer: "Where He is? This is where - hanging here from this gallows."
I came to the book anticipating the SS solders and the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. I was less prepared for the images of formerly friendly neighbors joining mob driven by hatred. I was unprepared for the picture of the everyday German people tossing crumbs into the passing cattle cars to see the starving inside battle for a just a taste of substance. I was equally unprepared for the stories of some of the Jews turning on each other for the sake of individual survival. But, in the dark night of human suffering born in racism we should not be surprised by anything we find.
There is a part of me that is thankful that I read Night. It helped me better understand one of low points in human history. There is another part of me that grieves that I read Wiesel's story. It painfully reminded me of the remarkable power of evil and the ease with which some embrace this power. It stirred me to think about other places where people cry out, waiting and praying that someone might hear and respond. Finally, as I walk away from the text I must claim a song of thankfulness that the darkness of night gives way to the the light of the dawn. The story of the Jewish people and balance of humanity did not end in Auschwitz or Buchenwald. Morning did come. My faith reminds me that the ultimate story of humanity is not found in death but in the power of life born in an empty tomb.
Grace and Peace, Tom