Page 66 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
language to convey the experience tha t he ca rried deeply within.
In his essay, “An Interview Unlike Any O th e r” (
A Jew Today),
Wiesel describes how the aging Mauriac u rged the young jou rna l-
ist to break his vow o f silence and share his bu rden o f history with
the world. Two years af te r the ir meeting, Wiesel wrote a detailed
account o f his concentration camp n igh tm are in Yiddish,
Un di
Veit Hot Geshvign (And the World Has Remained Silent),
published in
Argentina. He subsequently condensed and translated it into
French as
La Nuit
(1958). Moved by the text, Mauriac wrote a
foreword. A lthough Wiesel had difficulty at first find ing an
American publisher, the English version,
Night,
was published in
the United States in 1960.
EARLY HESITATION
While thousands o f survivors had published eyewitness
accounts immediately afte r the war, many others like Wiesel
needed “a b rea th ing space, a kind o f zone o f silence” before the
tru th could be told. In “One Genera tion A fter,” an essay
appear ing in the book o f the same title, Wiesel ventures to explain
the reasons fo r the reticence o f survivors. They were afra id o f not
being believed, o r being m isunderstood, o f being accused o f ask­
ing for pity, o r o f “a ttem p ting to communicate with language
what eludes language.” Words were futile, inadequate, deceptive;
they could only m isrepresent the ineffable reality tha t was
Auschwitz. Wiesel felt he lacked the literary tools and experience
to communicate such an awesome event. Most impo rtan t, he did
no t want to betray the sanctity o f the dead whose stilled voices
reverbe ra ted in his memory.
Yet the silence intensifying in Elie Wiesel’s inne r landscape for
ten years finally exploded. He realized tha t his own survival could
only be justified by bearing witness. Language had to be mobi­
lized as a weapon in the fight against forgetfulness. “Not to tran s ­
mit an experience is to betray it: this is what Jewish trad ition
teaches us,” Wiesel declares in a sta tem en t o f his literary
intention , “Why I Write.”1T h e act o f writing is for him “a
matzeva,
an invisible tombstone, erected to the memory o f the dead
1 “Why I Write,” in
Confronting the Holocaust: The Impact of Elie Wiesel
, Alvin
Rosenfeld and Irving Greenberg, eds. (Bloomington: Indians University
Press, 1979), p. 201.