Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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only son (Wiesel had th ree sisters) and u rged him to study mod­
ern Hebrew.
Wiesel tells us tha t as a child he had a g rea t love fo r books;
words were sacred, the library a sanctuary. He even began to
write his own commentary on the Bible which, twenty years af te r
the war, he uncovered lying in dust in the Wiznitzer House o f
Study in Sighet. T he young Talmudic scholar never read fiction
which was considered a waste o f time. I f someone had told him
tha t some day he was to become a novelist, and a French novelist
at that, he would have tu rned his back thinking he was being
taken for someone else. Today, in effect, Wiesel admits tha t he is
not a writer by profession and that his novels are those o f a man
steeped in Jewish theology and biblical commentary, illustrated
by the Jewish parables, aphorisms and moral tru ths tha t he
weaves into the fabric o f his texts.
I f Wiesel’s immersion in holy scripture and his veneration o f
the Book provided the foundation for his vocation as writer, p a r ­
adoxically it was the Holocaust that imposed his life’s work upon
him. In the spring o f 1944, the Nazis depo r ted 450,000 Jews o f
G reater Hungary to Auschwitz. W renched from the relative secu­
rity o f a small town, the fifteen-year-old boy along with his family
and the rest o f the community were propelled into the grotesque
world o f the concentration camp. O f the Wiesel family, Eliezer
and his two older sisters survived. T h ro u g h o u t his experience in
Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the youth stayed with his fa ther, the
sole link to humanity in a dea th-perm eated universe. F a ther and
son served as lifelines for each o the r in what Wiesel calls “the
kingdom o f n ight.” In Janua ry 1945, only th ree months before
the American liberation o f Buchenwald, the young boy watched
his sick fa ther cross the precarious thresho ld and succumb to the
Nazi machinery o f destruction. Looking at the unrecognizable
corpse-like reflection o f himself in the hospital m irro r af te r
liberation, Eliezer vowed tha t some day he would speak o f his
jou rn ey into Holocaust darkness.
At the same time Wiesel fervently p ledged to tell the tale, he
also promised himself tha t he would wait at least ten years before
he spoke out, long enough , he says, “to learn to listen to the voices
crying inside my own . . . to regain possession o f my memory . . .