Memorable writers dig deep for the next precise word to construct their narratives—a spiritual process that engages readers.

Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) was such a writer, but unlike others, his eleven months spent in the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald eviscerated Yiddish words learned in childhood. For ten years, silence stood guardian over his shocked psyche and sustained his sanity while mastering French in the Normandy home for orphans where he was placed after the liberation. But his heart wound was never staunched—The heinous Evil of the camps defied words. Still, he must try.

And he did. In 1954, he began the task, scrounging for words that shivered before the enormity of his experience. What was to become Night ballooned into 842 pages that underwent several published revisions: in 1956, the Yiddish Un di Velt Hot Geshvign (And the World Remained Silent), reduced to 245 pages; in 1958, the French Nuit, reduced to 178 pages; in 1960, the English Night, reduced to 117 pages; and in 2006, a re-translation of the French Nuit, reduced to 115 pages. Decades of revision finally distilled Wiesel’s wound into its essence.

Although words of thirty other languages approximate this account, what actually occurred in the camps remains obscure. Those who plumb the mystery of Evil get scorched; it remains an unfathomable mystery.

So what to make of this world classic, Night? It still speaks to us, but how?

A clue to this dilemma lies in the Talmud’s designation of God as speaking through the white spaces between printed words. Within such silence emerges Wiesel’s deposition for those with courage to listen.

 

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