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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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A-7713—The tattoo on his left forearm catapulted this teenager, shy, frail of stature, and prone to migraines, into hell-flames. It was March 1944, Auschwitz.

His crime: He was a Jew.

No longer did the religious fabric of his Rumanian village afford him the felt presence of God through daily studies of the Talmud and the Kabala, the observance of Shabbat and other holy days. Evil’s usurpation of the Sacred broke his spirit. Torn from his mother and three sisters he feared dead, he trembled within the crosshairs of machine guns, endured whippings in silence, and agonized over his failure to aid his father, also savagely abused.

While barely surviving on stale bread and gruel and hiding out among prisoners forced to work in the warehouse, his mystic soul absorbed the atrocities around him until the camp’s liberation by the U. S. Army in April 1945. He would tell this story, somehow.

Still carrying “the burning luminous scar of the holocaust” within his psyche, he went on to become a foreign correspondent, author, teacher, world lecturer, peace activist, husband, and father. His words, printed or spoken, disturbed deeply, and still do, with their the moral imperative to witness to evil in its seductive and blatant ruses. For his lifelong efforts he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

The first of his memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea (1994), contains an overview of his experiences, seasoned by delightful humor, even his year-long convalescence after being hit by a taxi in Manhattan in 1956.

This witness to unvarnished truth was Elie Wiesel. (1928 – 2016)

He still teaches for those willing to listen.

 

It happened in a split second—Just as the white-coated doctor wrenched the seventeen-year old’s face, the tattooist pressured her forearm to quell her screaming lest she be selected for one his brutal experiments. No matter their shaved heads, their dirty ill-fitting uniforms and wooden shoes, their enslavement at Auchwitz-Birkeneu, their dark eyes, with flitting smiles, found refuge in each other.

It was April 1942, the beginning of the three-year courtship, of sorts, between Gita Furnam and twenty-six year old Lale Sokolov, both Slovakian Jews, both determined to survive their rifle-toting tormentors with violent eyes.

Starvation, typhus, harsh weather, stray bullets, and the gas chambers sharpened the couple’s vigilance and heightened the urgency of their sporadic Sunday meetings behind the administration building. Both brought exceptional gifts to this relationship: Lale’s fluency in six languages and his position as tattooist in the camp that afforded him access to information and extra rations he liberally shared with others; Gita’s robust constitution and passion for life.

Fortunately for students of Holocaust literature, the widower Lale approached screenwriter Heather Morris with his story, three years before his death in 2006. While still decrying the injury he inflicted upon fellow prisoners and burdened by his collaborator status with the Nazis, he wanted the world to know what had happened in Auschwitz. Thus began another unusual relationship. Slowly, through long afternoons in his Melbourne apartment, Heather sifted these events through her imagination until the historical novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz emerged in 2018.

Again, we are deeply moved.

 

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