Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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FINE / WIESEL’S LITERARY LEGACY
67
compels the community o f Kolvillag to take the
herem,
the sacred
oath o f silence. Should any inhabitant o f the town survive the
approach ing pogrom , he must refuse to speak o f its destruction.
T he rationale is: I f speaking out has not changed the world,
silence will.
BURDENSOME ROLE
In
The Oath
more than any o the r text by Wiesel, the problematic
na tu re o f the witness is revealed. Azriel, the na r ra to r and sole su r­
vivor o f the pogrom is heir to a legacy at odds with itself: His
fa the r’s Book which he clutches to his breast as he pushes his way
out o f the blazing inferno , opposed to Moshe’s unspoken cove­
nant. The Wieselian protagonist like the au tho r himself, is torn
between telling and not telling the tale, between the impossibility
o f communicating an event that defies language, and the need to
convey to fu tu re generations the vision o f a world gone up in
flames.
Azriel finally violates the pledge o f silence in o rde r to save the
life o f a young man (a son o f survivors) about to commit suicide.
Open ing the pages o f the Book and taking the youth on a pilgrim­
age o f his forgotten and forbidden town, he involves him in his
past. Speaking ou t becomes an act o f salvation, and words, in stru ­
ments o f survival. T he witness has a hum an commitment to tell
the tale. The young man as co-narrator in the final pages o f the
novel represents the reader, who by being exposed to the
momentous events described in the book, is transformed from
passive spectator to active participant with awakened sensibilities
and endowed with the responsiblity to continue transm itting the
message. Azriel has saved not only the life o f the Book but more
important, the life o f the boy.
In
The Testament
it is not oral testimony bu t the written word
tha t becomes a form o f resistance. Paltiel Kossover, the main
character, is in jail in Barassy (renamed Krasnograd), the Russian
town where he was born , and which he willfully left to jo in the
Communist movement. Unlike Wiesel’s o the r protagonists,
Paltiel plunges into the political and social movements o f
twentieth-century history in Berlin, Paris, Spain, Palestine and
finally back to Russia where he joins the Red Army to fight the
erman invaders. A fter the war he is recognized as a poet in
Moscow in the Jewish literary circles he frequents. Paltiel has