Why? Why me? Why this? Why have you let this happen? Why?
These are the questions that every person has asked of God at some devastating point in their life. They are the same questions that young Elie Wiesel asked throughout his months in concentration camps. His narration of his life during the holocaust, in Night, depicts a young boy, condemned by his faith, in a continuous struggle to live, as well as a continuous struggle of his spirituality.
Elie Wiesel questioned religion before the holocaust. He questioned his religion during the holocaust. His religion took a backseat to his struggle to survive in the camps. Eventually, he gave up on his religion because of the holocaust. It is my firm belief that any one person, regardless of their established faith, having been put through the same experience would ultimately experience the same phases and decline in their faith.
Throughout the history of Judaism, the Jewish people have looked to the prophets for guidance in their lives. In the 11th century prophets, known in Hebrew as navi-meaning spokesman, became national leaders, speaking in the name of God. Prophets upheld strict principles of justice and humanity and warned of national disaster (Bamberger). In the opening of the book, Elie is searching for guidance and finds a mentor in Moshe the Beadle, who takes on a very prophetic influence.
Moshe intrigues Elie after he forces him to think about his reason for praying. Moshe encourages Elie to question life by explaining with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer (Wiesel, 2). Elie continues to see Moshe often, finding guidance in him.
I can identify with Elie s interest in finding answers about his religion, just as I have begun to realize the many questions I have about religion. All organized religions give people the possibility to question and venture deeper into the religion. Elie is not unlike the thousands of Lutherans whose teenagers look for more guidance by attending confirmation classes, or the Catholics attending catechism.
Moshe is expelled from Sighet, along with all foreign Jews very early in the book. When he returns months later he recounts his experience of the very beginning of the extermination of the Jewish people and his miraculous escape. Here is where I see yet another example of Moshe as a prophet. He returned to Sighet to warn the people of what was happening, yet unlike the established prophets of history, he was dismissed as a madman. He believes because he has been saved that he should tell his story.
Many people have faced some devastating occurrence in their life, (although I am by no means comparing any of my own experiences to the horror of the experiences Moshe, or the rest of the holocaust victims and survivors faced). After surviving their experience, many feel compelled to go out and tell their story so that others will learn by it and try to avoid the same misfortunes. What is sad is when those people are dismissed and their stories trivialized, much in the way Moshe has been dismissed.
It is all too sad that Elie has to learn, along with the millions of other Jews, that Moshe's prophecy was all too true. When Elie and his family begin their journey to the concentration camps, they continue to dismiss the truth Moshe has warned of. They continue to disbelieve they will be treated in the same manner. The Jews continued believing that God would save them, yet it is on their journey to the camps that they began to dismiss the practices and principles of their religion by the behavior they display toward one another. They took their anger and frustration out on one another. One woman went cried out about the fires and Once more the men tied her up and gagged her. They even struck her. People encouraged them They struck her several times on the head-blows that could have killed her (Wiesel, 24).
Elie first revolts against his faith soon after he arrives at Auschwitz. He and his father have been separated from his mother and sisters, and are on their way to the crematory, so they believe. Everyone around him was reciting the prayer for the dead-the kaddish-when he feels the revolt rising inside of him. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for? (Wiesel, 31). He is angered by their fate and revolts in his own mind, yet he breaks down and blesses his God.
I cannot image marching toward a burning oven, seeing the flames, smelling the burning flesh, knowing that was to be my death, and not revolting in the same manner. I would continue to struggle with my faith just the same, had I had to endure what Elie was to face.
Elie s faith continued on a rampant decline throughout his experiences in the camps. For half an hour he watched a young boy hang and twist from a rope, dying a slow death. Everyone kept asking where was God. Elie answered himself, saying He is hanging here on this gallows (Wiesel, 62). When life became even rougher on the prisoners, Elie s struggle to survive took priority over his faith. He didn t fast. He didn t follow through with his promise to Akiba Drumer to recite the Kaddish for him. After being separated from his father he even hoped that he would not find him. He felt that by not having the burden of his weak father, he would have more strength to save himself (Wiesel, 101).
Eventually, Elie s father died and was taken to the crematory while Elie slept. When Elie woke to his father being gone he lost whatever shred of faith he had left. He was untouched by emotion. He thought of nothing, except a drop of soup every now and then. Approximately three months after his father s death the camp was overthrown, and Elie was free at last.
By the end of the holocaust, more than six million Jews were massacred. They were gunned down, starved, gassed, electrocuted, burned, poisoned, blown up, hanged, used for medical research, and so on (Friedman). Elie Wiesel spent one year of his life in concentration camps, bearing witness to and barely escaping these atrocities. It is no wonder that he questioned his faith and continuously struggled with his beliefs. Fifty years later he is a living testament of the holocaust, and still searches for answers. He seeks light out, won t stop until he finds it, and that s what sustains him (Schleir).