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Elie Wiesel

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Night by Elie Wiesel (Night Trilogy Book 1)

The Drunk Guys Book Club Podcast

The Drunk Guys try and fail to be very funny this week when they discuss Night by Elie Wiesel. The beers they drink tonight are: Technological Nightmare by Finback, This is the Happiest Devil I Have by Evil Twin NYC, Fresh Feet and No Chicken by Evil Twin NYC, Directions


7 Sep 2021

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Night - Elie Wiesel - Episode #4 - The End Of All Things And The Beginning

How To Love Lit Podcast

Night - Elie Wiesel - Episode #4 - The End Of All Things And The Beginning Hi, I’m Christy Shriver and we are here to .  We are here to look at books that have changed the world and can even change us. I’m Garry Shriver and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast. Today we conclude one of the most important memoirs to be written in the 20th century- Elie Wiesel’s short narrative, Night.  In our first episode, we focused on Wiesel’s life and career, after the holocaust, as a survivor.  In episode 2, we talked about chapters 1-2, we discussed the Hungarian holocaust in particular and focused on the role of the railways as they enabled the industrialization of death.  Last week we focused on Auschwitz itself.  We talked about Birkenau, the killing centers, and we focused on the events, many evil but also many good that Wiesel highlighted- the way love  and kindness surfaced in  those that survived, and how that actually enabled him to survive.  We highlighted the role of God in the camps, the small acts of kindness perhaps that reflected divinity and literally saved lives- we saw men and women who expressed the power  individuals have within themselves to resist being reduced to a spiritual nothing.  Wiesel highlighted the evil, but also the resistance and humanity or divinity, if you will, in the heart of the inmates. Today, we are going to look at the rest of this book, looking at it in a different way- because as bad as it has been so far- it takes an even darker turn.  As we discuss the death marches, Gleiwitz, Buchewald and its liberation, we cannot avoid Wiesel’s emphasis on the malevalence that also resides or hides in all human hearts and is capable of coming out of anyone.  No one can claim any moral superiority in being incapable of great evil- and this seems to be what Wiesel seems to see even in himself at the very end.   I’ve heard the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson say that that’s what PTSD is all about, that it’s about life forcing you to stare into evil, often even in your own heart- and when you see what others but even you yourself are capable of, you are simply knocked off your center of being.  Lots of war poetry shows us this same thing, (we even talked about this a little bit when we did discussed. Dulce and Decorum Est,  because obviously many soldiers look at evil- things they had done or others had done that they just didn’t believe humans could do to each other and it is deconstructing.  World War Two- was certainly deconstructing and really WW2 was just the start of decades of systematic murders all over that the world that deconstructed not just the Western world, but China, Russia, Africa, and other parts of Asia as well.  Truly it’s impossible for us today to understand it.  The numbers are simply too great.  Of course, we can’t talk about all of the 20th century, because just focusing on the events of WW2 is too much for our brains to really comprehend.  More than seventy million people died in that war and, most of them civilians- that means, they weren’t even officially involved in war.  I know this is an aside- but for us non-msth people- numbers like that don’t mean anything- they are too abstract.  There’s a wonderful book by David Schwartz designed to help kids conceptualize how large large numbers are.  And in his book, he makes the point that if you wanted to count to one million, it would take you 23 days to do it.  So think about how many 70 million is.  It’s more than we can understand.  And, Of course we know about the assembly lines of death constructed in Nazi killing centers as the Nazi’s systematically sought to annihilate a race of people, but there were more. Millions died in combat. Many were burned alive by incendiary bombs and, of course we can never forget, nuclear weapons. All of this begs the obvious question of how in the world was such a sophisticated world able to create the kind of dehumanization which enabled or really empowered this much carnage. I’ve heard several lectures from Elie Wiesel, obviously from later on in his life, and one of the observations that he made fairly often, as a way of warning us about how we could do something like is, was to point out characteristics of German behavior during the Nazi era- not to suggest that Nazis were somehow different than the rest of us- but to point out just the opposite.  They are not different, and they certainly were not worse.  He points out how advanced their scientific and technological research actually was.  He points out they had a high understanding and appreciation of literature, art and music.  They were, in many ways, better than many of this- but—none of these things were sufficient to restrain them from behaving inhumanly.  What we see at Auschwitz is strange and counter-intuitive in almost every way.  We see that the Nazis did operate on some level based on values.  They kept everything worth keeping: clothes, suitcases, gold teeth, even hair.  They just didn’t operate on MORAL  values.  They kept everything except human life…and when you listen to Wiesel talk- the word morality comes up over and over again.  The idea of preserving morality in art, preserving morality in politics, preserving it speech matters greatly.  And somehow in Nazi, Germany, this was lost.  And what the end of this book shows- perhaps- among other things- is how this lack of morality has a coldness that increases in the face of its destruction- although you’d think the opposite would occur.  But what we know from this story as well as many many others is that as at the war seemed to be turning against the Germans, their commitment to death did not decrease, in fact it hastened to levels even they had not practiced up to that point.  True- and as we know from other accounts, as the war got closer and closer to its conclusion- things in concentration camps all over Poland and Germany got very very chaotic and very deadly. This brings us to Elie.  In January of 1945 the Russian Army began approaching Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.  Of course, in the book we see what was going on inside the camps as the Russians got closer.  What Elie expresses is a strange and ironic excitement when bombs would drop.  I’ve thought about that- how strange is the world when you are excited because bombs,which could kill you if they hit you, are your source of hope because they are also your source of liberation. True, but look at how the German mindset was even stranger.  We now know that this is literally the last months of the Third Reich.  Hitler will kill himself on April 30, 1945. But even at this late date in January of 45, many Germans still believed that the tide of the war would turn in their favor, and when it did they would need all these prisoners as slave laborers to rebuild all that was being destroyed through these battles.  So, the strategy at Auschwitz as well as other camps across Poland and Germany was to evacuate the prisoners deep into central Germany.  And that’s what they did- this is what Elie and his father were a part of.  The SS evacuated a total of 250,000 prisoners, except they didn’t have the resources to actually do this.  So, they made these prisoners, both men and women, march, and although the Weisel’s march started in Auschwitz, many others started way way before that and by the time they got to Auschwitz to take a break they were almost dead on arrival. There is such great irony at this part of the book for me- and of course, I have stopped pointed it out at every point because it would just sound redundant all the time- but at this point it’s worth bringing up again.  Elie had gotten hurt at work totting stones back and forth. Let me interrupt here- because it’s worth mentioning- remember how we talked about how evil is often characterized by being pointless- this is a great example of this.  The Nazis were notorious about giving their prisoners tasks that were absolutely grueling as well as pointless.  They would have them literally kill themselves to lift rocks and haul them from one place to another, just to turn around and have them move them back. Ugh- well, we’re not were told what exactly the nature of Elie’s work rock hauling work was, although he does allude to his work at Buna as being pretty pointless, anyway, he hurts his foot- and when that happens he has to go to the infirmary- a place that understandably horrified him.  Why would you want to go to a hospital in a place that was completely designed to end human life?  But ironically, it was a good place; the doctor was Jewish, the doctor got his dad in as an orderly, they got good food, he had an operation, his foot was going to heal and while it was healing, he is told he can lay in bed for two weeks.  Heck, he mentions he even had sheets!  However, two days after this happens, came the German evacuation.   He recounts that the patients in the hospital are given a choice- they could stay in the hospital and wait on the Russians or they could be evacuated with all the other innmates and march in the snow to whatever undetermined location they were going.  Well, at first pass, that would seem like an obvious choice- stay.  You can be free.  But, after the first thought, you have to have the second thought – and that one would be terrifying- what are SS going to do on the way out the door?  They were already blowing up crematoriums.  Getting rid of evidence of their crimes. It’s clear they didn’t want witnesses- how easy would it be to just shoot everyone in a hospital bed right before walking out?  It’s a gamble, one way or the other. And that is clearly what the inmates thought.  There was nothing in the behavior of the SS up to that point to indicate they would spare anyone’s life.   How terrified would Elie have to be at this point>. Because otherwise what else would motivate someone who had just operated on his leg to walk the 55km or 30 miles to Gleiwitz (although I’m sure they weren’t told their destination)- but they knew it was going to be bad.  And of course, what Elie was to find out many years later, tragically really, is that had they stayed back they would have lived.  When the Soviets walked into that camp the 6000 sick inmates were still alive and were immediately liberated. And so Elie and his father joined the 60,000 plus inmates that were evacuated just from Auschwitz- again the numbers are so big they are larger than we can imagine.  The suburb were our house is here in Memphis, has 58,000 inhabitants- that would mean all of Bartlett was marched out on foot in the snow in the middle of winter- with no adequate coats, Elie didn’t really even have a shoe.  And it is at the end of this chapter on Elie’s last day at Auswhtiz where I see one more passage that illustrates the great power of man’s ability to resist dehumanization- that I want to point out before we start talking about man’s great power to be overcome by evil- but their block leader made them mop the floor of their block before they left it which I find amaxing.  They are about to march in the snow endlessly and instead of preserving their strength they mop, and when asked why he says this and I quote, “For the liberating army.  Let them know that here lived men and not pigs.”  Wow!  Such a testimony. Incredible, well the evacuation was unbearably tedious as well as chaotic. They made the half-starved inmates run for their lives and to the incredibly capacity of the human spirit, they did.  They ran, even though the German soldiers couldn’t keep up and switched out- they continued running.  If they saw someone drop off or fall back, the orders were just to kill them.  They ran until they got to Glei Weitz, and from their they were locked in rooms awaiting to be loaded on open cattle cars to the interior of Germany.  As I read this part of the book where they run, stop in evacuated barns to sleep and then get up to run more,  I can’t help but have this question in my head- especially as I read about them runnin into the dark of night,  I think why don’t any of them just triy to hide in the grass and let the SS just run pass?  Weren’t the Russians coming?  Wasn’t it dark.  That’s a great question, that I think a lot of people have- and actually that did happen some, but not as much as you would think.   John Ranz, another survivor, of the death marches, when he tells his story kind of answers that question.  Because of his place at the camp, he had the unique privilege of reading newspapers that the Nazis were using as toilet paper.  Anyway, (I know that’s gross) but because he read the strips of paper he had access to when he tells his story he talks a little bit about the propaganda that the Nazi media was putting out.  The Media of Germany was not calling the German retreat “death marches” like we’re calling them.   They were calling them “Siegreicher Ruczug” or the “victorious withdrawal”.  The Germans were supposed to believe that the Germans were deliberately luring the Russians deeper into the Reich in order to encircle and completely destroy them.  He states  that he heard Germans shouting to bystanders as they marched by that “All those with machine guns or Panzer Faust units” were to report to the front.  The Panzer-Fausts were regarded as Germany’s great hope to stop the Russian tanks.  And the newspapers were full of stories of soldiers who single-handedly knocked out dozens of tanks.  It wasn’t an accepted fact that this war was over.  You also have to remember, these prisoners saw all the Germans as potential assailants- they understood that most of the people in the area would be hostile towards them- any peasant could kill one of them and likely would.  The prisoners, and you can see this from the way Elie tells his story, felt safer within the confines of the marching prisoners than lost and alone in German territory.  They saw that there was no place to hide even if they escaped the SS.  Plus, and don’t forget this, the German people had great faith in what they called the “Wunder Waffe” or miracle weapon.  It was their belief because Hitler kept talking about it, that any day this weapon would be unleashed and protect them from collapse. Can I assume you are talking about the nuclear bomb? Yes, Hitler had many physicists working competitively all over the Reich trying to enrich uranium, but obviously they failed.  Of course, if they had gotten that weapon instead of the United States, they may have been right.  Well, for the rest of the book, most of the stories that Wiesel recounts are not stories of kindness, but instead illustrations of great and intense evil- beyond even what had happened at Auschwitz.    And not all of them were done by Germans.  Many were done by Jewish prisoners to each other.  He highlights an incident about a young man abandoning his father, the Rabbi Eliahu.  He highlights the SS stuffing the prisoners in cars without covers, over 100 in each one, where they stood for days in the falling snow eating snow off of each other to have liquid in their bodies.  He highlights an account where they would stop at a village and people in the village would throw bread into the car just to watch the inmates kill each other to get a few crumbs of bread.  And kill each other they did. All of these stories take us to one common theme- and you haven’t even mentioned the one where a man literally kills his own father for a piece of bread- the theme is not  to show us how horrible the train ride was- although that is clearly evident, he has a greater point to make and we know this because It is in the middle of his description of the horrific train ride from Gleiwitz to Buchenwald that he again flash-forwards into the post war are and tells a story of a Parisian woman on a cruise ship.  It seems they are on a cruise in the Middle East, and it stops for one of those excusions  that cruise ships do- this one in  the port city of Aden, Yemen- a very poor country. Grown up Weisel watches this woman throw coins at these poor children who in turn strangle each other to get the coins.  Wiesel is super upset by this, but the woman keeps doing it.  When Wiesel admonishes her- she remarks that she and I quote “enjoys giving to charity”- so you have to ask- what does this story have in common with the wretched cattle car story of Germans throwing bread in the cattle cars to watch the Jews kill each other. He doesn’t really tell you in the memoir.  He makes you work for the answer- but, of course, any student of Wiesel knows what he thinks.  Wiesel argues that evil expresses itself first and foremost in indifference.  WE talked about it being voluntary and unnecessary- it’s also indifferent- and it seems to be something that can be in all of us anywhere at any level.  The woman in the story got some sort of pleasure from watching the degradation of the children and she was able to justify it because she was throwing money. I agree- it’s a theme we read about , and I have heard not just from Wiesel and even not just from holocaust survivors, but many survivors of 20th century genocides talk about this very deep and disturbing question.  Many raise the question and talk about the challenge of answering it? Why are people so evil?  Where does it come from?  Well, we can’t answer that question today.  But lots of great minds have.  It’s at the heart of the book of Genesis in the Bible.  Plato talked about it in the Greek tradition.  St. Augustine the Christian philosopher in his important work Confessions had a lot to say about this- and all of these writers predate the 20th century.  But the 20th century was full of expressions of absolute evil that challenged what we thought we were- what we thought we were becoming.  We had learned how to fly, how to make light, how to communicate across space- but look what we’d done with our advancements. And of course that begs the question- Are we on the verge of destroying ourselves?  We have to bring in Alexandr Solzhenitzen here- , he’s another nobel prize winner that I want us to cover in greater depth in a later episode- but one of his most famous quotes that I know about, comes out of the Gulag Arquipelago and to me speaks to what Elie is illustrating here and all over this train ride to Buchenwald. Well, before you read his quote, I think it’s worth mentioning that Solzhenitzen was a distinguished and celebrated solider in the Red Army- this very Red Army that we are talking about marching through Poland. And as a soldier he was a murderer himself, he’d done horrible things- all in the name of the war effort- but what happened to him was that Stalin found out he had said disparaging things about Stalin- so Solzhenitzen was sent to the Russian Gulags or the Russian concentration camps.  So, he had the unique experience of being both the perpetrator of evil as well as a victim of it. And this is what he has to say: In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil. Solzhenitsyn goes on to say: Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. It’s very similar language to what we are going to hear from Wiesel as he talks against ideologies later on in life.  Wiesel was absolutely against and spoke against all ideologies- be it whatever -ism you wanted to give it- and for the reason you just read.  They are great excuses for man to allow that evil to live unrestrained inside his heart.  The final chapters of this book are about the death of Shlomo Wiesel.  Elie’s father just cannot survive the death marches.  Once they get to Buchenwald it’s just a matter of time before  dynsentery takes his life.  Garry, give us the history and context of Buchenwald, and then we’ll end with the story of Elie’s father’s death and Elie’s liberation. Sure, Buchenwald is located in Eastern Germany about 150 miles south of Berlin. If you google maps that today, we’re talking about 453 miles if you are driving directly and on highways- even today it would take you 12 hours of solid driving under the best of circumstances to get from Auswhtiz to Buchenwald- and of course we know it took the Wiesels days of being outside in the exposed winter snow.  Technically, Buchenwald was never a killing center- it’s primary function was forced labor.  It was the first and largest of the German concentration camps.  It had no gas chambers, although that’s not to say, lots of inmates didn’t die there- we know that at least 56,545 were documented as dying there.  But let me highlight because I don’t know if we have really, the Nazis established over 44,000 labor camps of one kind or another during the war.  Again these numbers are hard to imagine. And the reason that we even know this is because in order to be so incredibly efficient and create such an intricate system, the Germans, by necessity, had to keep meticulous and enormous amounts of records.  Therefore- as a natural result, even though we see here at the end as they blew up camps, destroyed records and so forth, they were never able to succeed in hiding all the evidence. The German genocide is by far the most documented genocide in human history. Also, and we see this in Wiesel’s book, but also in other accounts, beyond the German records, there was the testimony of many witnesses- and beyond just the tragedy of the death involved- we learned the procedures and organization of these camps- and so we know a lot about these camps.  I know this is an aside, but it’s an aside worth mentioning there was a man by the name of David Boder, a Russian immigrant to the United States and a professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who traveled in 1946 to Europe for the express purpose of making a permanent record of the witnesses.  He collected over a hundred interviews totaling 120 hours of interviews on a wire recorder .  And this was just after it all had happened. This is an extremely important document of history. His work was never really famous at the time.  His book I did not interview the dead was not famous, but he accurately recorded what actually happened.  I recommend anyone interested in holocaust research to Google his name and listen to the work he did. But back to Buchenwald.   If you remember, Elie and his father were evacuated in January of 1945.  The Americans marched into a pretty much SS-free camp on April 11.  When Patton’s army got a few miles outside of the camp, almost all of the 5000 plus SS soldiers ran for their lives.  Once they did that, the inmates themselves liberated the camp.   Elie records how he saw this from the inside.  It’s incredible how close Elie’s father came to surviving the war.  But again, As the Americans approached Buchenwald, the Nazis did at Buchenwald what they had done at Auschwitz when the Russians got close- they tried to evacuate the camp.  Except this time, Elie didn’t participate.  And the reason that he didn’t is that he has no feeling of humanity left in him- as we see in the narrative.  The death of his father destroyed him.  His father had become delirious.  He had diarreha and couldn’t stop the dehydration.  His screaming couldn’t stop.  Where at Auschwitz, Wiesel tells us stories of human compassion, here at Buchenwald- we see none of that.  The Block Leader at their block here also gives Elie advice on how to survive at Buchenwald but listen to how opposite it is to the advice he had recived at Auschwitz….and listen to how Elie responds to the death of his father Read page 110 Of course we feel nothing but sympathy for little Elie Wiesel.  The circumstances of his father’s death is beyond anything anyone I know could ever even sympathize with.  But what Wiesel highlights is that he found in his own heart darkness as well.  He felt apathy- and it seems this felt like evil.  His first emotion was not sadness but relief.  He was not sad at the death of his own father- he was in fact dehumanized,  later he came to feel guilty about that.  It seems to perhaps even frighten him. I think it did frighten him, although he surely didn’t have words to voice it then in the camp.  But later in life, as Wiesel has had years to consider and reflect on all that he witnessed, he has this to say- “I have always thought that the opposite of culture is not ignorance, but indifference. That the opposite of morality is not immorality, but again indifference.”  I think that must have been what he felt- perhaps it was the feeling of indifference that felt like the evil and the darkness that he had seen all over the camps.  The Nazis were the absolutely expression of evil; the absolute expression of indifference. Well, as we know, Elie Wiesel was to spend the rest of his life advocating for peace.  He never advocated for revenge- not even for the children of Nazis- as you would expect.  He advocated that the way to fight indifference was to care- to be kind- to express empathy- and this not as a matter of state policy- although it does involve that too- but as a matter of personal choice. Another point to make, and he says this way later in his life- almost at the end.   He said he did not really believe we would achieve it really- he didn’t think we learned much from the 20th century.  David Axelrod interviewed him at the University of Chicago and he acknowledged this He admits, and to use his words, “the world learns nothing”.  However, in spite of all that- he still believed in humanity- he was a teacher who loved his students and believed in the future- he believed that we can combat indifference, we should and we must- knowing- like Solzehenzen that it will never be eradicted but it can be constrained.  He famously said that “hope is the memory of the future.”  I really like that line. It’s a paradox, but  beautifully hopeful.  And I believe in that hope too- the legacy of of Elie Wiesel is the legacy of kindness, and compassion- lived out- not judging others or condemning them in the name of an -ism- but in fighting indifference through our actions.  And so in that spirit, it is fitting that we end our discussion of Night reading the speech Wiesel made the night he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize because  although he died in 2016, his words, do live on- as does his witness- as does his hope. Garry will you read it for us. 


27 Apr 2021

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Night - Elie Wiesel - Episode #3 - Auschwitz, Birkenau and Buna.

How To Love Lit Podcast

Night - Elie Wiesel - Episode #3 - Auschwitz, Birkenau and Buna. Hi, I’m Christy Shriver.  We are here to look at books that have changed the world and can even change us. And I’m Garry Shriver; this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  This is our third episode featuring the great Dr. Elie Wiesel and his holocaust memoir Night. In episode one, we discussed Wiesel’s life story spanning the many years of his life before but then after the holocaust. We highlighted the impact this man has had on planet earth as an advocate for peace.  He stands out among the greatest advocates for peace in the 20th century, the most genocidal evil century in the history of our planet,  and he spoke of the necessity of man as a matter of survival to forgive: to seek Morality and ethical values, to honor the sanctity of human life, and to pursue the wisdom to distinguish between evil, revenge and justice. Last week, we went back in time to Sighet and listened to little Elie as he introduced to us his friend Moshe the Beadle, his family and his world.  We watched his world shrink smaller and smaller until he and his family were confined into a cattle car- where they ironically LONGED to reach their final destination- the ultimate situational irony, a place they had never heard of, a place the world must never forget, Auschwitz.  But, Garry, the story is so so sad. Well, it’s incredibly sad.  And there is a part of me that rejects wanting to even know about this.  It’s horrible and is a reminder of evil.  Yet, Wiesel, as a writer was absolutely obsessed with memory.  His greatest fear was that one day humanity would forget about the holocaust.  We would white wash it, pretend it didn’t happen, or change the way it happened in our collective memory to make it something it wasn’t.  He wanted the make a mark through the written word to fight that.  But that leads us to an incredibly important question historians who study the holocaust discuss and that is what should we take away from the study of the holocaust.  Well, for starters, memory of any kind- be it personal or collective- is an incredibly powerful part of being human.  There are so many reasons why we treasure memory.  You and I love to travel and a lot of that has to do with the culmination of memories it creates in my head and heart.  Some of my favorite memories of my children’s lives are from trips we’ve taken together.  I think about remembering my mother who died many years ago, when I hear certain songs or even eat certain foods, I remember her, her love, the lessons she taught me.  Yes- and there you are getting closer to its greater purpose.  Memory serves to help us extract lessons for the present and help project  us into the future, and THIS clearly is Wiesel’s purpose for recording the personally painful events of his life- the most painful of these will be in the chapters we read this week and next.  He isn’t the only one Saul Friedlander says that the memory of extreme events carry them an ethical imperative. – meaning survivors MUST.  Another thing, as far as writers and survivors go, these witnesses, such as Wiesel and Friedlander among others who have recorded horrific events seem to agree that the memory, the recording of it, is their tool for combating an apathy towards human history that can naturally develop in a comfortable existence when things like that may feel like encyclopedia entries. It’s one thing to say that Kubla Khan or Julius Caesar were ruthless.  It’s another thing for a witness to tell his/her story of what that means. You are exactly right.  And here we see why public memory or especially collective memory matters.  Memory gives people a tool to resist destructive things sometimes ones that are even natural at the present moment. And this can be practical, helpful. That seems all good for historians, but for non-history people, sometimes I have to wonder-  What is the point?  Why not forget?  Wouldn’t Wiesel have been better off to, as they “put all this behind him”?  Wouldn’t we, as a culture- to just let it go?  Auschwitz is so horrific- such a symbol of the capacity for evil living in man.   Do you think stories such as these should be remembered- or is it glorifying it- giving it a place when it doesn’t deserve one.  I know there’s the cliché- those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it?- to not be guilty of this sort of thing ever again?  Is there validity to that. Yes- I think there is.  Although, honestly that’s only one part of it.  And I will also concede this, historians are not in agreement if that cliche is even true all the time.  Sometimes memory creates things like feuds that go back, tribal conflicts that last generations- and things of that nature.  It’s so difficult to understand what to do with our memories.  How should we let them orient our future is not so simplistic .   We don’t understand what it means.   Again back to the great holocaust historian Saul Friedlander, he points out that the Nazi regime was unique among all genocides because they took it upon themselves to envision and technologically construct a world through killing so as to determine a set of criteria by which they should determine which group should be allowed to live on Earth- and they industrialized this process.  It is incredible when you think about it.  They pursued this goal with such commitment that this goal became more important than winning world domination.  In fact, they actually reversed the normal order of affairs.  World domination was the tool to annihilate, not the other way around.  How can we ever decide to make sense of this? So, what we have is to hear the story.  In Wiesel’s case, I think it is clear that he, through his story, wants to prolong the memory of the tragedy- give it voice beyond his lifetime, that not just his, but all of the victims experiences can be known.  He writes to make future generations the storytellers of his story. Grown up Wiesel found this so incredibly important it was worth his own reliving of it again and again- through the retelling.  And what I found so fascinating about this little narrative, the book night, is that it is purposeful at every point.  He writes in a style that is understated, but his message is powerful.  He is very selective in the different episodes he chooses to include in his retelling of his experiences at Auschwitz. There were so many things that happen.  All of them awful- remember his first book had over 800 pages.  Yet, in Night he chooses only a few. There are so many people he watched die; yet he highlights really less than a handful.  There are many survivors, people he encountered, yet he tells us of one or two.  And even more noticeable, his perpetrators are not honored.  He mentions Mengele by name as well as one Kapo, but the rest are anonymous.  True- and this stands out because the events he relays are incredibly gut-wrenching, if he wanted to, he could have gotten a lot more gruesome.  What we know  about the atrocities of Dr. Mengele alone has filled volumes of history.  But he doesn’t do this.  He mentions that he was there. This story, and I really think this is important, does not glorify or even magnify the tragic way innocent people died in killing centers- this is not the story through the eyes of the perpetrators of evil- Night is not about evil- although evil pervades every page of this book   This is about resistance to evil.  This is about the idea that no one, no matter how evil they are, no matter what atrocity they create, and there is no greater atrocity than the holocaust- but no one can take your humanity- which to me is an amazing thought after having just discussed the metamorphosis and kafka’s idea about how you can take away your own.  What we learn in this story, is that, in their way, the inmates at Auschwitz- even in their worst hour, expressed incredible agency.  They fought back in their hearts, in their minds and Wiesel is careful to point this truth out.  It’s important to see this.  Look especially at his discussion of religion.  Incredibly, God dwells in Auswchitz.  It’s absolutely incredibly how deeply spiritual this book is at times.  The theologian Rabbi Sacks, speaks about his experiences talking to holocaust survivors.  He says there were people who lost their faith at Auschweitz, there were people who kept their faith, there were people who found faith in God at Auiswhcwitz.  Wiesel introduces us to all three of these groups in this story, yet he doesn’t tell us what we should think of it.  He expresses divinity through humanity as he shows us what love is through the relationship with his father, what strength is through Juliek, what courage is through the French girl at Buna, and what kindness is by the strange men who come out to the train and tell Elie and his father to lie about their age.  And he juxtaposes this with evil.  From the minute the Wiesel’s  arrive we see humanity- we clearly see evil and inhumanity inhumanity- but the spotlight is on humanity.  Holocaust survivor George Pick says this, “I am here because some people who were taking chances with their lives, but also others who were doing seeming small things, gestures. Opening a door, letting us out….I want to put this into your minds that you don’t have to be heroic necessarily to be life-savers or to help others.  You can do small things and you would ever even know what the consequendes of those small things are.” Chapter 3 starts with utter confusion, darkness and sadness.  The saddest line in the whole book is at the beginning of chapter 3.  “I walked on with my father, with the men.  I didn’t know this was the moment in time and the place where I was leaving my mother and Tzipora forever.”  It’s incredibly quick- it’s overwhelming -and yet, it’s immediately dismissed as they were dismissed and of course, it is at this moment we see an instance of incredible human compassion and agency of those there- inmates telling then to lie about their ages.  Say you’re 18; say you’re 40.  The wiesel’s had no idea, and it’s hard to imagine how they even viewed this enormous place known as Auschwitz. The size of Auschwitz is much bigger than we can envision by simply reading this book. There are 44 parallel railway tracks that convene- probably why it was chosen.  Well, let me even back a little before that.  First of all, we need to know that Auschwitz was not the only place where Nazis were exterminating Jews.  There were six death camps- all of them in Poland.  These places weren’t camps- they were killing centers- the business of the camps was to manufacture death.  It is set up exclusively to create mass murder of human beings like an assembly line.  In these places, those who are selected out for survival are only selected out in order to support this industry.  Jews were a minority in the concentration camps but more than half of the Jews killed during the holocaust were killed in killing centers, not concentration camps.  I make this distinction because there were other slave labor camps or concentration camps besides the death camps.  Auschwitz was actually originally a slave labor camp that was retrofitted to become a death camp.  What we have at Auschwitz is a massive operation beyond what any person could ever conceive.  At its peak in the summer of 1944, Auschwitz I (ONE) covered about 40 sq. km. in the core area, and more than 40 branch camps dispersed within a radius of several hundred kilometers. In 1944, there were about 135 thousand people (105 thousand registered prisoners and about 30 thousand unregistered) in the Auschwitz complex, which accounted for 25% of all the people in the entire concentration camp system. Elie arrives in what we know now is Auschwitz 2 or Birkenau.  Later we see after he’s selected he is moved to Auschwitz 1 and then on to Buna.   Auschwitz 2 or Birkenau was the largest of the more than 40 camps and sub-camps that made up the entire Auschwitz complex. Auschwitz stands out because the scale of what went on here is beyond anything that happened at the other killing centers.   It only existed really for three years.  In October  of 1941, it was supposed to be a camp for 125 thousand prisoners of war. It opened as a branch of Auschwitz in March 1942.  Ultimately, what we know now, is that in its final phase, from 1944, it also became a place where some prisoners were concentrated before being transferred to slave labor camp, if that was going to happen at all, but The majority—probably about 90%—of the victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp died in Birkenau- the total is around 1 to 1.2 million people. And of course, we know now that The majority, more than nine out of every ten, were Jews.  This is one of the few places where Wiesel highlights a perpetrator, the infamous Dr. Mengele the one in charger of what they called “selection.”Menele held a conductor’s baton telling some to go to the right; others to the left.  No one knowing what it meant.  In Elie’s and his father’s case, they were sent to the right which meant they were spared.  But as they walked to the bunker they were given a good look at what Birkenau was about in 1944.  They passed a ditch while a truck was unloading children and babies and thowing them into a bonfire.  Elie comments that he didn’t think of it as being real.  His father was in disbelief as well.  They were looking at evil. And notice that at this moment, Elie references the response of the victims. They life their voices in prayer, “Ysgadal, Veyiskadah, shmey raba….May His name be celebrated and sancrified.”  There is this very gripping line, “Someone began to recite the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead.  I don’t know whether, during the history of the Jewish people, men have ever before recited Kaddish for themselves.”   An incredible moment- men taking hold of their own sacrament of death- transcending death in a sense.  Elie’s father was praying as well.  Of course, Elie didn’t want to pray.  He was angry at God- how colud God be silent?  How could you pray to God in the face of evil.  It’s not an easy question to ask, especially for religious people.  Maybe for Non-religious people, maybe one could say, it means nothing, but for many theists, and for Jews- this answer is not enough.  It can’t explain evil and it can’t provide an answer for it.  Wiesel and his father than remember Mrs. Shaechter on the train, she seemed to have known.  Evil is really characterized by two things- first for something to be evil there is this idea that it lacks necessity- there is no reason for it- and we feel this.  What is the point of a killing center?  Secondly, it is voluntary.  These perpetrators were not being forced- they were voluntarily digging ditches, processing inmates, industrializing death.  Modern materialistic thought doesn’t really like to think that there is such a thing- that this could be possible.  Many of us want to say that people aren’t really evil, they just do bad things out of necessity.  We can wrap our brain around that.  Just like it’s not evil when a lion eats a deer.  It’s sad, but not evil.  We’d like to argue that humans work like this- that if someone steals they nust have a good reason for it.  Maybe they were hungry; maybe they had some reason.  But what we see here is not that.  They go to the barber, the SS arbitrarily hit them randomly at all times for no reason.  They are forced to run everywhere although there is no hurry. Well, of course we would like to believe that there could be an explanation, in some sense because it gives us hope that if we could just cure the inequalities of the world, we wouldn’t have to be afraid of evil.  We could perhaps cure evil.  And it seems that Wiesel and his father look around we see they are stunned by the fact that there is no reason for this.  There is no necessity.  And yet, so many people are volunteering to participate- from the train conductors, to the SS, to the doctors, even to the Kapos- who were prisoners themselves chosen mostly because they too were evil.  And then there is that iconic infamous sign “Albeit Macht Frei.” Elie like Thousands of prisoners passed the Auschwitz Gate twice every day. First time, early in the morning, when they were going to work and the second time, when they were coming back, often carried by friends because of extreme fatigue. Every morning they glanced at the “Arbeit Macht Frei” – it was an insidious Nazi joke.  Everyone was aware every time they went under  it could be there last time to pass this gate. Work which was said to liberate them, was in fact bringing a premature death. The Auschwitz gate never led to freedom – only to pain.  The words were actually a pun.  The words “Arbeit Macht Frei”, “Work Will Free You”, is taken from the Bible which says “Wahrheit macht frei” (Truth will make you free). In early 30s the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” was very popular because of high unemployment level in Germany. It became a  motto of Nazi officers who forced prisoners to work in inhuman conditions. Eventually the slogan appeared over the gates of many extermination camps, not just Auschwitz. And it is here after going through this sign that Wiesel records another instance of humanity.  They had arrived at their Block, Block 17, and their block leader gives them this admonition.  He says this, “Comrades…read page 41.   Elie is one of the lucky ones, or so he’s led to understand.  He gets taken out of Birkenau, sent to Auschwitz where he just hangs out for three weeks doing pretty much nothing but sleeping.  After which he’s sent to what we now call Auschwitz 3 or Monowitz- Elie knew it as Buna.  Ironically, and I quote, “All the inmates agreed Buna is a very good camp. One can hold one’s own here.”  And this seems to be somewhat true.  Elie makes friends: Juliek, Yossi and Tibi (brothers). They would hum melodies about Jerusalem together, if you can imagine it.  They were given a blanket, a washbowl, a bar of soap.  Their Block leader, named Alphonse, was kind and sometimes smuggled in extra soup if he could manage it.  It is at Buna where Elie meets a French girl who gave him a crust of bread after he’d been severely beaten by one of the few perpetrators Elie gives a name, Idek the Kapo.  And what is even more incredible about that incident is that he flashes forward to a metro in Paris where he runs in to her again.  They recognize each other, get off the train and talk about what happened that day.  She had risked her life to give him that bread.  The Germans didn’t know she was Jewish, she was blond and was passing herself off as Aryan, but if they had heard her talking to him, she would have been busted.  As George Pick said, and it stays with me- heroism is in small things.  We just never know.  For Wiesel it was both shocking and troubling  that the Germans, of all people, should have been the ones who implemented the most savage national crime in recorded history. They were rich, educated, sophisticated, artistic, cultured, arguably the most cultured the most literate  in the Western World.  The way they created this industry of death was done in such an organized and sophisticated way.  They stood in court yards and were counted- death was carried on with such ceremony.  This is highlighted by the two hangings Wiesel recalls (of course there were many hangings- he says no one ever weeped to watch people get hanged.  They had all but gotten completely comfortable with the presence of evil and death, but he selects these two to discuss.  There was one Oberkapo (or overseer) who they had caught hiding a significant amount of weapons.  He was fighting back.  He was hanged along with his assistant, a child who helped him, but when the child went to hang, he was so light, he wouldn’t die.  As was the ceremony, all the inmates had to pass by the dead person hanging to remind themselves what happened to traitors, when Elie walked passed this Pipel he was still alive.  He agonized over this issue of culture and evil and raises again and again. It seems natural to assume that education and culture would make people more humane and kind.  But Wiesel learned in the camp that there is no correlation between education, culture and good and evil.  We’re going to see that even in his Nobel address he can’t resolve this troubling issue- as he said “all of those doctors in law or in medicine or in theology [the German officials in the camps], all of those lovers of art and poetry, all of those admirers of Bach and Goethe who, coldly, intelligently had ordered the massacre and had participated in it: what was the meaning of their metamorphosis? How does one explain their loss of ethical, cultural, religious memory?”  He further remarks in another piece that “many Germans cried when listening to Mozart, when playing Haydn, when quoting Goethe and Schiller—but remained quite unemotional when torturing and shooting children.” Even he was unemotional at this point in the camp.  The last part I want to discuss today, as we finish up our discussion of Elie’s time at Auschwitz before he is moved to another camp has to do with his treatment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The two most sacred days in the Jewish calendar.  Rosh Hashanah is the first of the high holy days. It’s the Jewish New Years and is celebrated in what in the Northern Hemisphere is in the fall.  It commemorates the creation of the world and starts, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two “High Holy Days” in the Jewish religion. Elie expresses rage really as he hears everyone discuss the Event of Rosh Hashanah- the end of the year.  The others were praying.  Elie is angry.  Elie narrates that and I quote, “some ten thousand men had come to participate in a solemn service, including the blockalteste, the kapos, all bureaucrats in service of death.”  There is an officiating inmate who leads them “Blessed be God’s name.”  Elie says that “thousands of lips repeated the benediction, bent over like trees in a storm.”  It’s just incredible.  And Elie angry.  He says this, “And I, the former mystic, was thinking, “yes man is stronger, greater than God.  When Adam and Eve deceived you, You chased then from paradise.  When you were displeased by znoah’s generation, you brought down the …read page 68.  The evil Elie saw at every moment through the billowing clouds of smoke, felt with the blows, heard from the kapos and SS, and smelled in the burning carcasses wasn’t about need, evolutionary competing interests.  It wasn’t about ignorance or lack of sophistication.  Evil couldn’t be explained nor combated through education or money. And although Elie couldn’t understand it or even see it- what he was witnessing were people fighting the evil.  Resisting the evil- not being consumed by it.  And it is truly remarkable that many survivors from the holocaust bring out this truth of resistance through love, forgiveness, redemption, this connection to the divinity.  But what are we to make of it?  Elie is just telling us what he saw.  He can make nothing of it, it seems.    Clearly.  And there is more tragedy and pain yet to come.  Next week, we’re going to talk about his last days at Buna, the evacuation in what history has called the “Death marchs” as well as Elie’s liberation from Buchenwald.  But, I want to end this episode with some of the most famous words he probably ever writes. He writes these back in chapter 3 right after they arrive at Birkenau.  Garry will you read these for us? Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.1 It’s what we call an anaphora- when you start every sentence with the same word or group of words.  Repetition always means emphasis- when you repeat something- it’s always because that’s the most important thing- obviously.  We repeat the things we want to memorize.   In this case there are seen repeated uses of the phrase “Never shall I forget..”  This is the main idea.  Never forget.  He will never forget.  We must never forget.  He is entrusting us with these images.  The number seven is s sacred number.  It’s the number of the divinity.  This passage is in reference to God, but it’s defihitely negative.  He’s not praising God like his father had done.  He’s not cursing Ggod either.  It ends with a paradox- Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself, never.  He doesn’t want to live as long as God- in one night a boy full of life and hope is destroyed.  But yet we know, that really Wiesel doesn’t end his life with despair.  He doesn’t forget, but God is not murdered.  His soul is not murdered.  The power of evil can go only so far and no further.  And there is hope in that. 


26 Apr 2021

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The Art of Inventing Hope: Elie Wiesel’s Masterclass for Humanity

People of the Pod

Elie Wiesel walked out of Buchenwald, one of the largest concentration camps in Germany, on April 11, 1945, the same day as the late father of journalist Howard Reich, the legendary former jazz critic for The Chicago Tribune. Reich never talked to his father or mother, both survivors, about their Holocaust experiences. But in 2001 Reich’s mother began to relive those experiences, and his quest to piece together the stories he never knew about led to his book and subsequent film, Prisoner of Her Past. Nearly a decade later, Reich sat down to interview Elie Wiesel and discovered an instant connection, which he wrote about in The Art of Inventing Hope. Reich joins us to discuss all this, plus how jazz helped him confront his family’s past. Then, in honor of Yom HaShoah, we’re joined by Lilli Platt, AJC Senior Development Director and Director of Women's Leadership Board, who was born in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp and is the child of Holocaust survivors. _ Episode Lineup:  (00:40) Howard Reich (23:01) Lilli Platt (25:29) Manya Brachear Pashman (29:05) Seffi Kogen  ___ Show Notes: Prisoner of Her Past The Art of Inventing Hope: Intimate Conversations with Elie Wiesel The Four Questions in Irish, and 4 More Great Moments from AJC’s 2021 Diplomatic Seders


8 Apr 2021

Most Popular

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115: Elie Wiesel's "Night"

Beer and Conversation with Pigweed and Crowhill

P&C review Glutenberg, a gluten-free IPA, then, along with special guest Longinus, discuss Elie Wiesel's Night. We've covered some hard topics, but this was the most difficult. The book chronicles Wiesel's experiences leading to and then during his confinement in Auschwitz. The story takes you through all the small steps on his journey from being a boy who wants nothing more than to study Kabbalah to an innocent who is sentenced to a living Hell.


16 Mar 2021

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Night by Elie Wiesel

A Tale of Two Bookworms

In this episode, Tony and Kailea review Night by Elie Wiesel. A memoir of a holocaust survivor that we feel should be considered required reading


23 Jan 2021

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Night by Elie Wiesel

Chambers FM

In this recording, Mr. Chambers reads the book "Night" by Elie Wiesel, a first-hand account of a young boy's struggle for survival during the Holocaust. 

3hr 25mins

4 Jan 2021

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Conversations with Oprah: Elie Wiesel

Super Soul

From July 15, 1993 Oprah Winfrey Show: Activist, author and Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Elie Wiesel, discusses his New York Time Bestseller, Night, which recounts his experience as a Holocaust survivor. Wiesel opens up about his memories of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the first thing he did once he was freed and the lessons he learned through it all. Elie Wiesel passed away in 2016 at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.


25 Nov 2020

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V. Nesfield and P. Smith, "The Struggle for Understanding: Elie Wiesel's Literary Works" (SUNY Press, 2019)

New Books in Jewish Studies

An in-depth look at Elie Wiesel’s writings, from his earliest works to his final novels. Elie Wiesel (1928–2016) was one of the most important literary voices to emerge from the Holocaust. The Nazis took the lives of most of his family, destroyed the community in which he was raised, and subjected him to ghettoization, imprisonment in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and a death march. It is remarkable not only that Wiesel survived and found a way to write about his experiences, but that he did so with elegance and profundity. His novels grapple with questions of tradition, memory, trauma, madness, atrocity, and faith. The Struggle for Understanding examines Wiesel’s literary, religious, and cultural roots and the indelible impact of the Holocaust on his storytelling. Grouped in sections on Hasidic origins, the role of the Other, theology and tradition, and later works, the chapters cover the entire span of Wiesel’s career. Books analyzed include the novels Dawn, The Forgotten, The Gates of the Forest, The Town Beyond the Wall, The Testament, The Time of the Uprooted, The Sonderberg Case, and Hostage, as well as his memoir, Night. What emerges is a portrait of Wiesel’s work in its full literary richness.Victoria Nesfield is Research Coordinator in the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York, in the United Kingdom. Philip Smith is Professor of English at the Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong.Dr. Yakir Englander is the National Director of Leadership programs at the Israeli-American Council. He also teaches at the AJR. He is a Fulbright scholar and was a visiting professor of Religion at Northwestern University, the Shalom Hartman Institute and Harvard Divinity School. His books are Sexuality and the Body in New Religious Zionist Discourse (English/Hebrew and The Male Body in Jewish Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodoxy (Hebrew). He can be reached at: Yakir1212englander@gmail.com Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/jewish-studies


11 Nov 2020

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V. Nesfield and P. Smith, "The Struggle for Understanding: Elie Wiesel's Literary Works" (SUNY Press, 2019)

New Books in Genocide Studies

An in-depth look at Elie Wiesel’s writings, from his earliest works to his final novels. Elie Wiesel (1928–2016) was one of the most important literary voices to emerge from the Holocaust. The Nazis took the lives of most of his family, destroyed the community in which he was raised, and subjected him to ghettoization, imprisonment in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and a death march. It is remarkable not only that Wiesel survived and found a way to write about his experiences, but that he did so with elegance and profundity. His novels grapple with questions of tradition, memory, trauma, madness, atrocity, and faith. The Struggle for Understanding examines Wiesel’s literary, religious, and cultural roots and the indelible impact of the Holocaust on his storytelling. Grouped in sections on Hasidic origins, the role of the Other, theology and tradition, and later works, the chapters cover the entire span of Wiesel’s career. Books analyzed include the novels Dawn, The Forgotten, The Gates of the Forest, The Town Beyond the Wall, The Testament, The Time of the Uprooted, The Sonderberg Case, and Hostage, as well as his memoir, Night. What emerges is a portrait of Wiesel’s work in its full literary richness.Victoria Nesfield is Research Coordinator in the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York, in the United Kingdom. Philip Smith is Professor of English at the Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong.Dr. Yakir Englander is the National Director of Leadership programs at the Israeli-American Council. He also teaches at the AJR. He is a Fulbright scholar and was a visiting professor of Religion at Northwestern University, the Shalom Hartman Institute and Harvard Divinity School. His books are Sexuality and the Body in New Religious Zionist Discourse (English/Hebrew and The Male Body in Jewish Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodoxy (Hebrew). He can be reached at: Yakir1212englander@gmail.com Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/genocide-studies


11 Nov 2020