To every conscionable man who would feel diminished by the startling terror of the Hitlerian evil, to every man who would wince in mortal dread at the hideous spectacle of Nazism that flung six million Jews to utter destruction – there is indeed a certain transcendental aura about the person of Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and a witness to the dark frightening descent of a vitiated humanity.
Having been moulded and stricken in a haunting extremity that defeats the comprehension of a benevolent God, Wiesel radiated a deep evocative spiritual emanation, the palpable solemn specter that humbles our collective faith, the calm instinctive defiance of a witness whose will in the end, vanquished the dark side of humanity. In his faithfulness to the brighter side of man, in his unceasing canvass for the just cause, Wiesel vaulted beyond the confining evil of the concentration camps, etching in us all an unforgettable moralistic caution: Never Again!
In the gripping forthrightness of his elocution, in the ringing solemnity of his voice, Wiesel rose far beyond the boundaries of faiths and nations, challenging the core of our humanity, probing the dark recesses of man and the unfathomable mysteries of our confrontations in the conflicting search for a living God.
It has been poignantly observed that it is impossible to ponder the enormity of the Teutonic fury that banished so many human beings to utter destruction. One had to be there. One had to be a Jew. But even without being there and without being a Jew, we are compelled by the haunting narratives of a man who was flung into the ineffable murderousness of Auschwitz and Buchenwald when he was barely stirring in the formative innocence of a teenager.
Wiesel was plucked from the bucolic serenity of his hometown of Sighet, a sedate Jewish community in the bowel of the Carpathian Mountains when he was merely 14 years old. With his father and mother and three other sisters, Wiesel’s little world of pious devotion to the Jewish faith and the deepening in the cultural and historical knowledge of his ancestors was shattered when the Nazis appropriated the Hungarian sovereignty in 1944, invariably hurling the whole town of about 15,000 people into servitude and death in the killing chambers of the concentration camps.
From the suffocating shackles of the train compartments to the forced inhuman marches across the howling wastelands of Arctic frigidity where men, women, the old and the young trudged through the frozen fields – Wiesel was our witness to a cruelty so unutterable and yet so banal in the swift effectiveness of its venom and in the cold detachment of its exterminating totality.
Here, the weak and the infirm, the innocent of the cradle, the toddler, the aged and the weary, all dropped and perished in the icy tundra, eclipsed in the bewildering anonymity of a snow-swept godless wilderness.
Those who survived the death marches had no reprieve in the gas chambers and the chastening horrors of the labour fields where men and women were bent behind the lash and the bayonet of evil men, forced to dig the huge graves that would eventually enshroud them.
The Nazis that held the death camps wore no badge of tempering humanity. They were without the least nudging of conscience, definitely without the faintest kindling of the recesses of the human soul, absolutely denied the moral restraint of our collective civilising purpose, stripped of any defining core that intimates our common humanity. They inhabited an unusual monstrosity, a benumbing viciousness so vast and so casual in its instinctive malignity. It was an evil that knew no God. It was a residence in summative hate that was so brutal and so consuming in the frightening depths of its depravity that instigated a query about the intervening responsiveness of a rectifying God.
In his gripping chronicle fittingly called Night, Wiesel gave an account of the hanging of a baby who choked and gagged, pallid and pink as he was consumed in slow excruciating death, with his tender limbs drooped and thrashed in that hideous gallows of unvarnished benightedness.
The starved, the condemned, the beaten and the skeletal frame of a defeated spectacle of humanity quaked in terror and forlorn helplessness; a collective witness to the descent of man into the horrid darkness of hell. Alas, what kind of a twisted mind would string a baby on the gallows just to chasten the captive crowd?
As Wiesel and the rest of the fettered horde of humanity watched in cringing, bruising fearfulness, an involuntary voice rose in that insane outpost of barbarity with a stinging query: “Where is God in this place?
Almost at once, Wiesel heard an unconscious response from the recesses of his soul: “I am here, hanging from the gallows!”
The searing import here is the cruel abandonment of man in a chaotic and inverted universe denied the intervening arbitration of a just and omnipresent God, devoid of the rectifying sway of justice, truth and the equitable balance between right and wrong. It is in this warped, scarring totality that Wiesel lost his father, his mother and his seven-year-old sister to the deranged evil of Nazism.
In this fury and storm where evil prevailed without a sanction, where the hapless were crushed and weighed down without the assuaging promptitude of a just and benevolent God, the unrelieved victims were torn in the confusing perplexity of a quiet despair and a scathing, horrid resignation. In this haunting helplessness where God appeared distant and unfathomable, the victims of terror were wrapped in a silent, withdrawn, vegetative muteness, dazed in a never-land where there was no hope, no kindness, no corrective interlude of providential assertion. All was malevolence. All was death.
Wiesel’s thematic rivet remains an eternal query: Why does the living God allow evil to thrive? Why must the innocent of the cradle without formative consciousness be subjected to a cruel, hideous fate while the Heavens are unstirred, frozen in unexplainable indifference?
Why must evil triumph at all while the good and the righteous are abandoned to ruin and forfeiture?
If the Heavens are omniscient and omnipresent, how to explain the dark corner of the Hitlerian evil that thrived unsanctioned by God or man?
Do the Heavens condone evil in some blind punitive anger against the erring man? If evil must thrive without the prompt rectifying arbitration of the wise and the omnipotent God, what then is the purpose of existence? Is man flung in a chaotic universe without a pivotal rational centre?
These are puzzling mysteries as old as the first rising of the human thought on the plains of Mesopotamia. It is as frustrating and abstruse as the Gordian knot, mystifying the first primeval philosophers from the virginal beginnings of Serengeti to the ferment of scholarship in classical antiquity. Despite the imponderables of the human confrontations, despite the searing perplexities of our challenges, it would be cowardly and defeatist to submit to the meaninglessness of the human purpose.
To acquiesce in a world without guidance and logical appreciation is to sink in a bewildering complicity with evil. We may not fathom the nature of the God-head. We may not fully comprehend the sometimes confounding ways of Heaven but we must, like Wiesel, speak against the darkness that distorts our humanity and nudge man towards the brightness of the redemptive light that accentuates our perception of the benevolent God.
It is in this refuge that Wiesel’s legacy endures in infinite relevance. For he was in the end, a universal man who was undetained by the annihilating scourge of Nazism. He was an authentic witness for all mankind who railed against hatred and bigotry everywhere, ultimately renewing our faith in the redeeming passages and the brotherhood of man.
Wiesel reposes now in eternal attestation wherever truth is treasured, wherever the kindling of conscience is roused in rectifying instructiveness against the ills of an errant society. He can never be forgotten, just like the dead and the buried in the ashes and the soil of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and other far flung stretches where the victims now lie, a chastening rebuke of all mankind.