Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

Basic HTML Version

the self-consciousness o f la ter Wieselean characters who are more
aware o f the ir role.
Eliezer describes an evening in the spring o f 1944 when the
Wiesel family ga thered in the courtyard o f the ir house, then
enclosed in the ghetto o f Sighet. Wiesel’s fa ther, Shlomo, was
relating anecdotes to a g roup o f about twenty friends. Suddenly
he was in te rrup ted by a policeman who summoned him to a meet­
ing o f the Jewish Council. “T he good story he had been in the
m iddle o f telling us was to remain un fin ished ,” his son notes. T h e
theme o f the unfinished story is a key to the text o f
and to
Wiesel’s work in general. T he fa the r’s story can be seen as a m e ta­
p ho r for Jewish life and lives abruptly b rough t to a standstill in
the middle o f the night. In Elie Wiesel’s literary universe the
aborted tale provides the link between fa the r and son, ultimately
pointing to the need to bear witness.
Shlomo Wiesel’s words are eclipsed by news o f deporta tion . He
never concludes his tale fo r he does not survive the voyage into
the dep ths o f night. In o rd e r to continue the succession, the son is
compelled to take his fa the r ’s place, thus assuming the role o f
storyteller. Telling the story is an act o f restitution , a mode o f
transcendence, a means o f achieving sovereignty over death . T he
story becomes the Book, and it is the son’s imperative to keep it
alive. Wiesel’s entire literary structure appears to be based on
transm itting the paternal legacy. In effect, with the son as
na rra to r , the fa the r’s unfinished story becomes the story o f the
is a testament to the mutual devotion o f fa ther and son in
a thoroughly dehum an ized world. When dea th appeals to Eliezer
as a relief from suffering, his fa the r’s presence prevents him from
yielding: “I had no righ t to let myself die. What would he do with­
ou t me? I was his only suppo r t.” Father and son remain un ited in
the midst o f atrocity. Like Abraham and Isaac they are “victims
toge ther ,” as Wiesel describes the biblical pair in
Messengers of God.
However, the father-son bond gradually deteriorates in a system
designed to break down all human relations. When Eliezer’s
fa the r is struck by a Kapo, the boy’s rage at the aggressor is dis­
placed onto the victim, his father, who does not know how to
avoid the blows. As his fa the r slowly acquiesces to death , Eliezer
grows even angrier, witnessing the transfo rm a tion o f the once
powerful paternal au thority into a sick, fearfu l child.
When Eliezer abandons his fa the r du r ing an a lert in