NIGHT by Elie Wiesel


Elie Wiesel was a co-founder of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem together with Israel W. Charny and the late Shamai Davidson, M.D.

Newly Unearthed Version of Elie Wiesel’s Seminal Work Is a Scathing Indictment of God, Jewish World 

In Wiesel’s uncensored Hebrew ‘Night’ manuscript, unveiled here for the first time, the author expresses desire to take revenge on the Hungarians, lashes out at fellow Jews and describes sexual scenes from the train to Auschwitz.

by Ofer Aderet May 01, 2016 Haaretz English Edition

The 150-page work that historian Dr. Joel Rappel pulls off the shelves of his vast library is a difficult document to read. It’s not the handwriting that makes the task hard – it’s actually quite legible. The content – a searing indictment against God and anyone who believed in him during the Holocaust – is what causes the reader to shudder.

“We believed in miracles and in God! And not in fate … and we [fared] very badly not believing in fate. If we had, we could have prevented many catastrophes,” writes the author. “There is no longer a god in the heavens; he whispered with every step we put on the ground. There is no longer God in heaven, and there is no longer man on the earth below. The universe is divided in two: angels of death and the dead,” he continues.

And then: “I stopped praying and didn’t speak about God. I was angry at him. I told myself, ‘He does not deserve us praying to him.’ And, really, does he hear prayers? … Why sanctify him? For what? For the suffering he rains on our heads? For Auschwitz and Birkenau? … This time we will not stand as the accused in court before the divine judge. This time we are the judges and he the accused. We are ready. There are a huge number of documents in our indictment file. They are living documents that will shake the foundations of justice.”

Who is this man who wants to settle accounts with God and shake faith to its very roots? The author’s name appears at the top of the first page: Eliezer Wiesel.

That is how Elie Wiesel, arguably the most famous Holocaust survivor, wrote his name at the beginning of his journalistic and literary journey. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been one of the most significant voices of the Jewish world since the second half of the 20th century. However, the wider public has not been able to read this particular work, which he wrote in the late 1950s.

Wiesel intended to turn it into a special, expanded Hebrew version of his best seller “Night” – one of the most widely sold, read, translated and quoted Holocaust works internationally. However, before he completed his task, he decided to shelve the text, placing it deep in his archive. Even Haim Gouri, who translated “Night” from the French to Hebrew, didn’t know of its existence.

Thus, the archived book was buried for decades, awaiting the moment of its rediscovery.

The man who finally located the archived work was Dr. Rappel, and it was no easy task when you consider that Wiesel’s archive at Boston University – where he served as a professor for over 35 years – contains about a million documents, stored in 330 boxes. The archive has many of his manuscripts, among them early versions of his articles, drafts and incomplete chapters from books that were never published.

These writings document, among other things, Wiesel’s life in the Transylvanian town of Sighet (then Hungary, now in Romania), where he was born in 1928, and New York, where he has lived since the 1960s; his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald; his career as an Israeli journalist after the Holocaust; his work on behalf of Soviet Jewry and human rights around the world; and his career as a successful writer who rubs shoulders with world leaders.

Wiesel has known Rappel for decades. He was the one in 2009 who asked Rappel to organize and manage his archive, and it took Rappel – a historian and former Israel Radio staffer who specializes in researching the Land of Israel, the Jewish nation and Judaism – seven years to accomplish the complex task of classification and organization. He dedicated two-and-a-half of those years to detective work on locating Wiesel’s lost manuscript.

Rappel’s interest in the archived work was spurred after a document on display in the university library caught his eye. It was a photograph of a page in Hebrew in Wiesel’s handwriting, whose content reminded him of “Night.”

“An alarm bell went off inside of me,” Rappel recalls. “Indeed, Wiesel wrote ‘Night’ in French [also Yiddish] and Gouri translated it into Hebrew, so I asked myself, ‘What is another Hebrew version of this book doing here?’” When he posed the question to Wiesel, the author answered, “There is something like that but I don’t know where it is. I would be very happy if you can find it.”

Rappel realized that he wouldn’t be able to rest until he found the manuscript, but the task proved difficult. “Go find 100-plus pages among a million documents, which are still not organized like a real archive,” he says. He combed through some 500 pages a day, looking for hints as to the location of the missing manuscript. After two-and-a-half years, when he was “completely despondent, but very much stuck with the will to succeed,” he was surprised to find a package of papers in Hebrew among other documents. When he examined it, he realized he had found what he was looking for.

Criticizing God and fellow Jews

“Night” was Wiesel’s first book, written in the 1950s and translated into English in 1960. It describes his experiences as a young Jew in the Holocaust, grappling with harsh existential, identity-related and faith-based questions, and brought him international recognition.

The archived version of “Night” is hugely different to the published one. It contains entire sections that don’t appear in the finished book, as well as different versions of pieces that were included.

As well as the sharp criticism of God, the archived version also included harsh criticism of many Jews who either yielded to temptation or were tempted to believe that nothing bad would befall them. Wiesel settles accounts with those among his people who shut their eyes and ears to what was happening, and blames them for paving the Nazis’ way to committing their horrors. He calls them “false prophets.”

“Eternal optimists … it would not be an exaggeration on my part if I were to say that they greatly helped the genocidal nation to prepare the psychological background for the disaster,” he writes, adding, “In fact, the professional optimists meant to make the present easier, but in doing so they buried the future. It is almost certain that if we had known only a little of the truth – dozens of Jews or more would have successfully fled. We would have broken the sword of fate. We would have burned the murderers’ altar. We would have fled and hidden in the mountains with farmers.”

He also reserves criticism for the Jewish leadership, both in Palestine and globally. “We didn’t know a thing [in Europe], while they knew in the Land of Israel, and they knew in London, and they knew in New York. The world was silent and the Jewish world was silent. Why silent? Why did it not find it vital to inform us of what was going on in Germany? Why did they not warn us? Why? I also accuse the Jewish world and its leaders for not warning us, at least about the danger awaiting us in ambush so that we’d seek rescue routes.”

He also describes at length his Christian-Hungarian neighbors, who joyously watched the Jews of his hometown being deported. “All the residents stood at the entrances of their homes, with faces filled with happiness at the misfortune they saw in their friends of yesterday walking and disappearing into the horizon – not for a day or two, but forever. Here I learned the true face of the Hungarian. It is the brutal face of an animal. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I were to say the Hungarians were more violent toward us than the Germans themselves. The Germans tended to shoot Jews.”

Wiesel also discusses the desire for revenge that arose in 1945. “At the end of the war, I refused to return to my hometown because I didn’t want to see any more the faces they revealed behind their disguises on that day of expulsion,” he writes. “However, from one perspective, I am sorry I didn’t return home, at least for a few days, in order to take revenge – to avenge the experts of hypocrisy, the inhabitants of my town. Then it would have been possible to take revenge!”

It’s fascinating to compare what Wiesel originally wrote with what appears in the final, softened version. Take, for example, the archived version revealing that originally Wiesel wrote an additional passage about sexual relations among those being transported in the cattle cars to Auschwitz.

He wrote in detail in the archived text: “Under the cover of night, there were some young boys and girls who had sexual intercourse. The initial impact of the disaster was sexual. The tension of the final days sparked the desires that now sought release. And the heat also added its own touch, so that the sexual scenes did not provoke protest in the carriage. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

Why did Wiesel, now 87, write this text in Hebrew if he decided ultimately to present Israeli readers with the version translated from French? What is the meaning of the differences between the Hebrew version and the one translated into Hebrew from French? Why did he never publish it, but rather store it away among a million documents? And if he wanted to dispose of it, why not simply destroy it – as he did with some of his other manuscripts?

Rappel, who returned to Israel from the United States last summer, has also pondered these same questions. “The first question that arose for me was why this manuscript was not published,” he says. “I wondered if someone wanted to make it disappear and get rid of it.”

Because of his health, it is now no longer possible to ask Wiesel these questions. But the writer, as is his wont, added a little mystery to the matter when Rappel – one of the people closest to him – asked him about the archived text. “This is the version of ‘Night’ that Wiesel wanted the Israeli reader to see. He didn’t write it for anyone else. Therefore, it was so important,” Rappel explains. “Wiesel knew that many Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz and Buchenwald, as well as many Jews living in Israel, would read this version, and so he put more emphasis on the Jewish aspect.”

If that’s true, why did Wiesel store it away, deep in his archive? “He knew that, someday, someone would find this manuscript and leave it for the following generations,” believes Rappel.

Feverish writing

Whatever the reason, in order to place the writing of this work in the oeuvre of Wiesel’s life, one must return to 1954 – nearly a decade after he was liberated from Buchenwald. He was then a young journalist, filing copy for Yedioth Ahronoth from Paris, and was sent on a journalistic assignment to Brazil. On the way, in a small cabin on a boat, he began writing the book that was destined to transform him from a journalist writing in Hebrew for the Israeli public to a respected, renowned and wealthy author.

In his 1995 memoir “All Rivers Run Into the Sea,” Wiesel described the process of writing “Night”: “I worked in my cabin for most of the journey. I wrote feverishly, with shortness of breath, without rereading … The pages piled up on my bed. I slept fitfully. I didn’t participate in the activities onboard, and I typed incessantly on my little portable typewriter, ignoring my fellow passengers, concerned only that we would get there too soon.”

Wiesel was then 26. A decade before, he was being tossed between life and death in the Nazi camps, where he lost his mother, father and one of his sisters. At this point, he decided to break the vow of silence he had taken upon himself and “to open up the gates of memory,” as he put it.

By the time he had finished writing, he had 862 pages in Yiddish describing what had happened to him during the Holocaust. He published this work in 1956, in an abridged, 254-page version in Yiddish with the title “And the World Remained Silent.” The book was published in Argentina by Mark Turkow, brother of the actor Jonas Turkow. Two years later, an even shorter French version was published.

The person who encouraged Wiesel to publish the book in French was François Mauriac, one of France’s great authors. The men met for the first time in 1954, when the journalist Wiesel interviewed Mauriac, who had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1952. When Mauriac told Wiesel about “the image of cattle cars filled with Jewish children at the Austerlitz train station,” Wiesel told him, “I was one of them.” Mauriac immediately understood that Wiesel’s recollections and experiences deserved to be published, and he encouraged him to further edit down the Yiddish version, change the name to “Night,” and introduce other changes that would make it appealing to as wide an audience as possible.

“Please listen to an old man like me: We must talk – we also need to talk,” Mauriac told him, according to Wiesel. And so was born “Night,” the 158-page, abridged version of “And the World Remained Silent.”

Mauriac wrote in the foreword that “Night” is “different, distinct, and unique,” and wished that the number of readers “should be as numerous as those reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’”

The book was translated into 35 languages, among them English and Hebrew, and is mandatory reading on the Holocaust in schools around the world. Indeed, it was many readers’ first encounter with the Holocaust. Another generation was exposed to it after Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club in 2006.

Rappel estimates that Wiesel wrote the archived Hebrew manuscript in the late 1950s, during the period when he was in talks with Dov Yudkowsky – the then-editor of Yedioth Ahronoth and his closest friend in those days – about translating the French edition into Hebrew. When the talks got serious, he stopped writing the Hebrew version and gave the translation job to Gouri.

Decades later, Gouri himself no longer remembers who asked him to translate “Night” into Hebrew, but stresses that it was the first book he had translated from French. The two met in the early 1950s, when Wiesel was writing for Yedioth in Paris and Gouri was there on a scholarship. The two stayed in touch for many years, despite differences of opinion over Wiesel’s decision to live in the United States.

“As a radical Zionist, I thought that he, as a survivor, would come to be one of us,” recalls Gouri now. “[Then-Mayor] Teddy Kollek also offered him an apartment in Jerusalem, but he said that the United States gave him the home he was lacking. Many didn’t forgive him for this choice. Even after he received the Nobel Prize [in 1986], they wrote some harsh words about him. But over time, a new generation accepted him. When they attacked him, I said, ‘I wasn’t in Auschwitz. He was there.’ It’s impossible to hurt a person who survived Auschwitz. Perhaps if he had moved to Israel, he would have been one of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors.”

Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 87


by Joseph Berger, International New York Times, July 2, 2016
Katie Rogers, Eli Rosenberg and Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Elie Wiesel, the Auschwitz survivor who became an eloquent witness for the six million Jews slaughtered in World War II and who, more than anyone else, seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.

Menachem Rosensaft, a longtime friend and the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, confirmed the death in a phone call.
Mr. Wiesel, a charismatic lecturer and humanities professor, was the author of several dozen books. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But he was defined not so much by the work he did as by the gaping void he filled. In the aftermath of the Germans’ systematic massacre of Jews, no voice had emerged to drive home the enormity of what had happened and how it had changed mankind’s conception of itself and of God. For almost two decades, the traumatized survivors — and American Jews, guilt-ridden that they had not done more to rescue their brethren — seemed frozen in silence.

But by the sheer force of his personality and his gift for the haunting phrase, Mr. Wiesel, who had been liberated from Buchenwald as a 16-year-old with the indelible tattoo A-7713 on his arm, gradually exhumed the Holocaust from the burial ground of the history books.

It was this speaking out against forgetfulness and violence that the Nobel committee recognized when it awarded him the peace prize in 1986.
“Wiesel is a messenger to mankind,” the Nobel citation said. “His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”

Mr. Wiesel first gained attention in 1960 with the English translation of “Night,” his autobiographical account of the horrors he witnessed in the camps as a teenage boy. He wrote of how he had been plagued by guilt for having survived while millions died, and tormented by doubts about a God who would allow such slaughter.

Wiesel is in the second row of bunks, seventh from the left

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed,” Mr. Wiesel wrote. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

Mr. Wiesel went on to write novels, books of essays and reportage, two plays and even two cantatas. While many of his books were nominally about topics like Soviet Jews or Hasidic masters, they all dealt with profound questions resonating out of the Holocaust: What is the sense of living in a universe that tolerates unimaginable cruelty? How could the world have been mute? How can one go on believing? Mr. Wiesel asked the questions in spare prose and without raising his voice; he rarely offered answers.

“If I survived, it must be for some reason,” he told Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times in an interview in 1981. “I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore, because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot.”

There may have been better chroniclers who evoked the hellish minutiae of the German death machine. There were arguably more illuminating philosophers. But no single figure was able to combine Mr. Wiesel’s moral urgency with his magnetism, which emanated from his deeply lined face and eyes as unrelievable melancholy.

“He has the look of Lazarus about him,” the Roman Catholic writer François Mauriac wrote of Mr. Wiesel, a friend.

President Obama, who visited the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp with Mr. Wiesel in 2009, called him a “living memorial.”

“He raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism, but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms,” the president said in a statement on Saturday. “He implored each of us, as nations and as human beings, to do the same, to see ourselves in each other and to make real that pledge of ‘never again.’”

Mr. Wiesel long grappled with what he called his “dialectical conflict”: the need to recount what he had seen and the futility of explaining an event that defied reason and imagination. In his Nobel speech, he said that what he had done with his life was to try “to keep memory alive” and “to fight those who would forget.”

“Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices,” he said.
A year earlier, on April 19, 1985, Mr. Wiesel stirred deep emotions when, at a White House ceremony at which he accepted the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement, he tried to dissuade President Ronald Reagan from taking time from a planned trip to West Germany to visit a military cemetery there, in Bitburg, where members of Hitler’s elite Waffen SS were buried.

“That place, Mr. President, is not your place,” he said. “Your place is with victims of the SS.”

Mr. Reagan, amid much criticism, went ahead and laid a wreath at Bitburg. Paradoxically, the confrontation led to Mr. Wiesel’s first postwar visit to Germany. He said afterward that he had been extremely moved by the young German students he met and the depth of their painful search for an understanding of their country’s past. He urged reconciliation.

“Has Germany ever asked us to forgive?” Mr. Wiesel asked. “To my knowledge, no such plea was ever made. With whom am I to speak about forgiveness, I, who don’t believe in collective guilt? Who am I to believe in collective innocence?”

Mr. Wiesel had a leading role in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, serving as chairman of the commission that united rival survivor groups to raise funds for a permanent structure. The museum became one of Washington’s most powerful attractions.

“He was a singular moral voice,” said Sara J. Bloomfield, the museum’s director. “And he brought a kind of moral and intellectual leadership and eloquence, not only to the memory of the Holocaust, but to the lessons of the Holocaust, that was just incomparable. There is nothing that can replace the survivor voice — that power, that authenticity.”

Denouncing Persecution

In his 1966 book, “The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry,” Mr. Wiesel called attention to Jews who were being persecuted for their religion and yet barred from emigrating. “What torments me most is not the Jews of silence I met in Russia, but the silence of the Jews I live among today,” he said. His efforts helped ease emigration restrictions.

Mr. Wiesel condemned the massacres in Bosnia in the mid-1990s — “If this is Auschwitz again, we must mobilize the whole world,” he said — and denounced others in Cambodia, Rwanda and the Darfur region of Sudan. He condemned the burnings of black churches in the United States and spoke out on behalf of the blacks of South Africa and the tortured political prisoners of Latin America.

Yet the plight of Jews was foremost. In 2013, when the United States was in talks with Iran about limiting that country’s nuclear weapons capability, Mr. Wiesel took out a full-page advertisement in The Times urging Mr. Obama to insist on a “total dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure” and its “repudiation of genocidal intent against Israel.”

Central to Mr. Wiesel’s work was reconciling the concept of a benevolent God with the evil of the Holocaust. “Usually we say, ‘God is right,’ or ‘God is just’ — even during the Crusades we said that,” he once observed. “But how can you say that now, with one million children dead?”

Still, he never abandoned faith; indeed, he became more devout as the years passed, praying near his home or in Brooklyn’s Hasidic synagogues. On the airplane that was to take him to an Israel darkened by the Arab-Israeli war in 1973, he sat shoeless with a friend, and together they hummed Hasidic melodies.

“If I have problems with God, why should I blame the Sabbath?” he once said.

Mr. Wiesel had his detractors. The literary critic Alfred Kazin wondered whether he had embellished some stories, and questions were raised about whether “Night” was a memoir or a novel, as it was sometimes classified on high school reading lists.

Mr. Wiesel blazed a trail that produced libraries of Holocaust literature and countless film and television dramatizations. While some of this work was enduring, he denounced much of it as “trivialization.”

What gave him his moral authority in particular was that Mr. Wiesel, as a pious Torah student, had lived the hell of Auschwitz in his flesh.

Eliezer Wiesel was born on Sept. 30, 1928, in the small city of Sighet, in the Carpathian Mountains near the Ukrainian border in what was then Romania. His father, Shlomo, was a Yiddish-speaking shopkeeper worldly enough to encourage his son to learn modern Hebrew and introduce him to the works of Freud. Later in life, Mr. Wiesel was able to describe his father in less saintly terms, as a preoccupied man he rarely saw until they were thrown together in Auschwitz. His mother, the former Sarah Feig, and his maternal grandfather, Dodye Feig, a Viznitz Hasid, filled his imagination with mystical tales of Hasidic masters.

He grew up with his three sisters, Hilda, Batya and Tzipora, in a setting reminiscent of Sholom Aleichem’s stories. “You went out on the street on Saturday and felt Shabbat in the air,” he wrote of his community of 15,000 Jews. But his idyllic childhood was shattered in the spring of 1944 when the Nazis marched into Hungary. With Allied troops fast approaching, many of Sighet’s Jews convinced themselves that they might be spared. But the city’s Jews were swiftly confined to two ghettos and then assembled for deportation.

“One by one, they passed in front of me,” he wrote in “Night,” “teachers, friends, others, all those I had been afraid of, all those I could have laughed at, all those I had lived with over the years. They went by, fallen, dragging their packs, dragging their lives, deserting their homes, the years of their childhood, cringing like beaten dogs.”

“Night” recounted a journey of several days spent in an airless cattle car before the narrator and his family arrived in a place they had never heard of: Auschwitz. Mr. Wiesel recalled how the smokestacks filled the air with the stench of burning flesh, how babies were burned in a pit, and how a monocled Dr. Josef Mengele decided, with a wave of a bandleader’s baton, who would live and who would die. Mr. Wiesel watched his mother and his sister Tzipora walk off to the right, his mother protectively stroking Tzipora’s hair.

“I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever,” he wrote.

In Auschwitz and in a nearby labor camp called Buna, where he worked loading stones onto railway cars, Mr. Wiesel turned feral under the pressures of starvation, cold and daily atrocities. “Night” recounts how he became so obsessed with getting his plate of soup and crust of bread that he watched guards beat his father with an iron bar while he had “not flickered an eyelid” to help.

When Buna was evacuated as the Russians approached, its prisoners were forced to run for miles through high snow. Those who stumbled were crushed in the stampede. After the prisoners were taken by train to another camp, Buchenwald, Mr. Wiesel watched his father succumb to dysentery and starvation and shamefully confessed that he had wished to be relieved of the burden of sustaining him. When his father’s body was taken away on Jan. 29, 1945, he could not weep.

“I had no more tears,” he wrote.

On April 11, after eating nothing for six days, Mr. Wiesel was among those liberated by the United States Third Army. Years later, he identified himself in a famous photograph among the skeletal men lying supine in a Buchenwald barracks.

Only after the war did he learn that his two elder sisters had not perished.

A Postwar Mission

In the days after Buchenwald’s liberation, he decided that he had survived to bear witness, but vowed that he would not speak or write of what he had seen for 10 years. “I didn’t want to use the wrong words,” he once explained.

He was placed on a train of 400 orphans that was diverted to France, and he was assigned to a home in Normandy under the care of a Jewish organization. There he mastered French by reading the classics, and in 1948 he enrolled in the Sorbonne. He supported himself as a tutor, a Hebrew teacher and a translator and began writing for the French newspaper L’Arche.

In 1948, L’Arche sent him to Israel to report on that newly founded state. He became the Paris correspondent for the daily Yediot Ahronot as well, and in that role he interviewed Mr. Mauriac, who encouraged him to write about his war experiences. In 1956 he produced an 800-page memoir in Yiddish. Pared to 127 pages and translated into French, it then appeared as “La Nuit.” It took more than a year to find an American publisher, Hill & Wang, which offered him an advance of just $100.

Though well reviewed, the book sold only 1,046 copies in the first 18 months. “The Holocaust was not something people wanted to know about in those days,” Mr. Wiesel told Time magazine in 1985.

The mood shifted after Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina by Israel in 1960 and the wider world, in watching his televised trial in Jerusalem, began to grasp anew the enormity of the German crimes. Mr. Wiesel began speaking more widely, and as his popularity grew, he came to personify the Holocaust survivor.

“Night” went on to sell more than 10 million copies, three million of them after Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club in 2006 and traveled with Mr. Wiesel to Auschwitz.

Mr. Wiesel wrote an average of a book a year, 60 books by his own count in 2015. Many were translated from French by his Vienna-born wife, Marion Erster Rose, who survived the war hidden in Vichy, France. They married in Jerusalem in 1969, when Mr. Wiesel was 40, and they had one son, Shlomo Elisha. They survive him, as do a stepdaughter, Jennifer Rose, and two grandchildren.

For Mr. Wiesel, fame did not erase the scars left by the Holocaust — the nightmares, the perpetual insecurity, the inability to laugh deeply. “I live in constant fear,” he said in 1983. In 2007, a 22-year-old man who called Mr. Wiesel’s account of the Holocaust fictitious pulled him out of a hotel elevator in San Francisco and attacked him. (The man was convicted of assault.)

From 1972 to 1976, Mr. Wiesel was a professor of Judaic studies at City College, where many of his students were children of survivors. In 1976 he was appointed the Andrew W. Mellon professor in the humanities at Boston University, and that job became his institutional anchor.

In an effort to promote understanding between conflicting ethnic groups, Mr. Wiesel also started the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Through a synagogue acquaintance of Mr. Wiesel’s, it invested its endowment with the money manager Bernard L. Madoff, and his decades-long Ponzi scheme, revealed in 2008, cost the foundation $15 million. Mr. Wiesel and his wife lost millions of dollars in personal savings as well.

Mr. Wiesel lived long enough to achieve a particular satisfying redemption. In 2002, he dedicated a museum in his hometown, Sighet, in the very house from which he and his family had been deported to Auschwitz. With uncommon emotion, he told the young Romanians in the crowd, “When you grow up, tell your children that you have seen a Jew in Sighet telling his story.”

Israeli Jews and Arabs plant ‘Garden of the Righteous’ to Honor Forgotten Holocaust Heroes


Alternative memorial in mixed Israeli village to commemorate rescuers in all genocides, including some Holocaust saviors never acknowledged by Yad Vashem.

By Judy Maltz | Haaretz English EditionJul. 14, 2016 |

NEVE SHALOM – A makeshift sign tacked onto an olive tree is for now the only clue to the grand plan in store for this stretch of woods overlooking the Ayalon valley in central Israel. “Honoring the Circassians who saved the lives of Jews,” it reads.

If all goes as planned, this several-acres-large plot will become the site of an ambitious memorial project commemorating courageous individuals around the world who, during periods of war, ethnic cleansing and genocide, risked their lives to save others. Alongside the tree commemorating the tiny Muslim Circassian village in the Caucasus that saved 32 Jewish children during the Holocaust, there will be others — many others, in fact.

Within the next few years, according to the latest blueprint, the entire area will be covered with plaque-bearing trees and other monuments paying tribute, among others, to Turks who saved Armenians during the World War I genocide, Palestinians who rescued Jews during the 1929 Hebron riots, Jews who saved Palestinians during the Jerusalem riots that same year, Armenians who saved Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust, Jews who saved gypsies from the Nazis, as well as Hutus who rescued Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide — in short, any rescuer, no matter their origin or creed, not officially acknowledged by Israel’s state institutions.

As locations go, this one carries special symbolism: Situated halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace in Hebrew) is the only community in Israel jointly founded by Jews and Muslims — a tiny hub of peaceful coexistence in a region long associated with deadly conflict.

“Anyone who risks his life to save another human being, and it doesn’t matter who that human being is, for me that is the ultimate act of grace,” says Yair Auron, a resident of the village and the driving spirit behind the new “Forest of the Righteous” project.

“Such individuals,” he adds, “must be honored.”

The official declaration establishing the “Forest of the Righteous” states that its purpose is to honor “those who during dark periods of man-made humanitarian disasters, ethnic cleansing and genocide did not succumb to the popular current.” The Neve Shalom site has already been incorporated into the“Garden of the Righteous Worldwide” network, an Italy-based organization that has helped launch similar projects around the world, most recently in Rwanda, Armenia and Poland.

Yad Vashem, the Israeli national institution responsible for Holocaust commemoration, has a large department devoted to “Righteous Among the Nations” — the term it uses to honor non-Jews who put their lives at risk to save Jews during the Holocaust without demanding compensation in return. Since its inception, it has honored more than 26,000 such rescuers. Still, many applications for “Righteous Among the Nations” status are rejected by Yad Vashem, either for lack of evidence or failure to meet its criteria.  That would include the case of the inaugural honorees of the Neve Shalom memorial — the 32 Muslim Circassian families from the small Caucasian village of Besleney, who, at great risk to their lives, each provided shelter to a Jewish orphan.

Yad Vashem has said that not enough evidence was provided to substantiate this claim.

His forest, Auron promises, will serve as an alternative commemoration site for these and other rescuers who have not passed muster at Yad Vashem and, therefore, never received the acknowledgement they deserve.

A scholar of genocide studies at The Open University, Auron developed a first-of-its kind academic program in Israel to teach the subject. Much of his recent professional life has been devoted to getting Israelis to understand that Jews are not the only people in the world who have experienced terrible suffering. In a country still living under the trauma of the Holocaust — where challenging the singularity of this event is often considered heresy — his message has not always gone down well, with Yad Vashem expressing criticism over his project.

“Yad Vashem applauds the actions of the brave men and women who saved fellow human beings throughout history. We believe that these people should be praised and celebrated, and that their actions should emulated and taught as lessons to all humanity,” the institution said in a statement.

“Nevertheless, the term Righteous Among the Nations is rooted in Jewish tradition, and the title Righteous Among the Nations has been established throughout the world to indicate those ‘non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust,’ as stated in the Yad Vashem Law passed in 1953. Over the past six decades, Yad Vashem has recognized over 26,100 non-Jewish people as Righteous Among the Nations. They come from over 50 nations and include Christians of all denominations, Muslims and other religions.

“Therefore, using this term Righteous Among the Nations for the acknowledgement of other humanitarian deeds not related to its historically and widely accepted meaning is a conflation of varied and distinct historical narratives, and thus is not only misleading, but also diminishes the uniqueness of the title.”

Auron is the first to admit that his campaign to get the Israeli government to officially recognize the Armenian genocide has become a personal obsession of sorts. More recently, he has been waging a low-key battle with Yad Vashem over its refusal to recognize Circassian rescuer — a story he spent years researching and which eventually became the subject of his Hebrew-language book, “The Banality of Compassion: On the Rescue of Jewish Children in a Muslim Circassian Village in the Caucasus in 1942” (RESLING Publishing, 2016).

Since the recent groundbreaking ceremony at the brand new “Forest of the Righteous,” Neve Shalom has hosted several events honoring rescuers, one paying tribute to Palestinians who saved their Jewish neighbors during the 1929 Hebron riots and another to the Circassians who saved the Jewish children. The latter was attended by four relatives of the rescuers who hail from the Israeli Circassian village of Kfar Kama in the Galilee.

Partnering with Auron in this rescue commemoration project is his neighbor Dyana Rizek, director of Neve Shalom’s soon-to-be-launched Peace Museum. Born in Nazareth, Rizek is one of the original residents of Jewish-Arab village, having moved here more than 30 years ago. As a Palestinian whose people have been victimized, she says, the project resonates with her in a personal way. “It is important for there to be solidarity between victims of persecution,” she says. “Humane actions unite us at the level of our common humanity.”

Together, they have already recruited several prominent Jewish and Palestinian sculptors to the project.  Both Dani Karavan, a Jewish Israeli, and Nihat Dabit, an Arab Israeli, have agreed to donate special commemorative monuments to the site, Auron and Rizek say.

A small area at the bottom-most part of the designated plot has already been cleared of debris to make room for these and other installations. The final design, though, is still under discussion and it is unclear when the memorial will open to the public.

The project has already obtained approval from the local zoning authority, and enough seed money has been raised to begin basic infrastructure work. But Auron says his greatest challenge lies ahead: finding enough space on the plot to commemorate every act of rescue recorded in his already bursting files.

הבנאליות של החמלה: גילוי של אומץ בארץ הצ’רקסים [The Good There Is In A Place of Evil]


אברהם בורג
Haaretz Hebrew Edition
May 20, 2016

Review of Auron, Yair. The Banality of Compassion: On the Rescuing of Jewish Children in the Circassian Muslim Village in 1942. Published in Tel Aviv.  Riesling, 2016.  (Hebrew)

ספרו של יאיר אורון עוסק בסיפור לא ידוע ונוגע ללב על הכפר הצ׳רקסי־מוסלמי בסלניי שבקווקז, שהתגייס להציל ילדים יהודים יתומים ב-1942

הבנאליות של החמלה: על הצלת ילדים יהודים בכפר הצ’רקסי־מוסלמי בסלניי שבקווקז ב–1942
יאיר אורון. הוצאת רסלינג, 
179 עמודים, 72 שקלים

יש בעולם כל מיני ציידים. יש אנשים שצדים חיות, אחרים צדים שיטפונות בחורפים המדבריים. פרופ’ יאיר אורון הוא צייד מסוג אחר לגמרי: צייד ג’נוסיידים וחֶמְלוֹת. אורון הוא היסטוריון שהקדיש פרק ארוך של חייו המקצועיים לעיסוק בשני צדי המשוואה האנושית של העת החדשה: השמדות עמים, שואות וג׳נוסיידים, וכנגדם הגיבורים השקטים שהצילו נפשות והצילו את נשמת אפה של האנושיות. אורון, עד לאחרונה איש האוניברסיטה הפתוחה, יזם בה תוכנית ייחודית בנוף האקדמי הישראלי — לימודי ג’נוסייד, השמדת עם. בתוכנית הלימודים הזאת השתתפו כבר כ–15 אלף תלמידים. במסגרתה גם נכתבו ופורסמו ספרים רבים שהקיפו את התופעה הכלל אנושית הנוראה והמבעיתה הזאת.

עכשיו מפרסם אורון את מחקרו האחרון “הבנאליות של החמלה: על הצלת ילדים יהודים בכפר הצ׳רקסי־מוסלמי בסלניי שבקווקז ב–1942″. הסיפור לא ידוע כלל, והוא קטן וענק, נוגע ללב, מרוחק וקרוב בבת אחת. בסלניי הוא כפר של איכרים פשוטים וישרי דרך בקווקז, בארץ הצ’רקסים. זה סיפור על מפגשן של שתי היסטוריות המתחילות הרבה לפני השנה המדוברת. מאה שנים — 1763–1864 — לחמה רוסיה הצארית בשבטים הצ’רקסיים בצפון־מערב הקווקז. מאות אלפי צ’רקסים נהרגו, נטבחו, נשחטו וגורשו באכזריות על ידי החיילים הרוסים. בתום המלחמה נותרו בשטחים הצ’רקסיים פחות מ–10 אחוז מהאוכלוסייה שחיה בהם קודם למלחמה. הנותרים הצליחו לשמר את המסורות והמנהגים שלהם, ה”אדיגה חבאזה”. זה קוד חברתי, התורה הצ’רקסית שבעל פה, שהיא למעשה מערכת החינוך והנורמות הצ’רקסית האישית והקולקטיבית. היא כוללת קטגוריות מוסריות כמו: “כבוד, יושרה, יושר, אמת, בושה, ואת היכולת להתנהג בחברה; רגישות, הקשבה, כבוד למבוגרים, לבני המין השני וכו’. המנהגים הבולטים הם: כיבוד הזקנים, בשל ניסיון חייהם עתיר השנים, כיבוד הורים, הכנסת אורחים, נדיבות לזולת, חשיבות מעמד האשה”. הזיכרון ההיסטורי הטראומטי, יחד עם מערכת הערכים הייחודית הזאת, עמדו למבחן כשנפגשו עם הרכבת ההיסטורית השנייה שדהרה מולם.

״לנינגרד היתה אחת הערים שזכו לתואר ‘עיר גבורה’. כשגברה הסכנה שהצבא הגרמני יכבוש את לנינגרד, היה ברור שהילדים היהודים יועמדו בפני סכנה גדולה במיוחד ולכן הוחלט לפנותם… ב–10 באפריל 1942 יצאה שיירה של ילדים מכמה בתי יתומים מהעיר. הם הועלו לרכבות משא ונדדו (ארבעה חודשים) בדרכים אל עבר הרי הקווקז, מאחר שלא שיערו שהגרמנים יכבשו את האזור. בימים האחרונים של יולי 1942 או בתחילת אוגוסט 1942 הפציצו הגרמנים את הרכבת וילדים רבים נהרגו”.


פתאום, בבוקר אחד ב–16 באוגוסט 1942, קרה משהו יוצא דופן בשדות הכפר השלו והתמים. “בכפר נותרו רק זקנים, נשים וילדים, הגברים גויסו לצבא האדום… השיירה עברה בכפרים אחדים, אך תושביהם סירבו לקבל את הילדים בשל הרעב הכבד וגם מהפחד מפני הנאצים. תושבי בסלניי ראו בדרך העוברת במבואות הכפר ארבע עגלות רתומות לסוסים, ובהן ילדים תשושים, חולים, הנראים הרבה יותר מבוגרים מגילם (3–14), חלקם למעשה גוססים ומקצתם אפילו מתים. ילדי הכפר בסלניי היו הראשונים שפגשו בהם וראו שהם תשושים וחולים. הם ניסו לדבר איתם אבל הילדים מלנינגרד לא השיבו. אחר כך באו האמהות מהשדות ולקחו 32 ילדים. כל אחת לקחה ילד אחד. זהו סיפור הצלה שבמרכזו נשים. בבוקר היום שלמחרת, או לפי גרסה אחרת לאחר יומיים, נכנסו חיילים גרמנים לכפר. הם חשדו שיש ילדים יהודים בכפר, חיפשו ואיימו לירות בתושבים ולשרוף את הכפר על יושביו אם יימצא ולו ילד יהודי אחד. במשך 152 הימים שבהם שהו החיילים הגרמנים בכפר אף אחד לא הוסגר”.

זאת תמצית הסיפור שנגלתה לאורון באקראי, אגב שיחה בירושלים עם מאבטח צ’רקסי ישראלי מכפר כמא שבגליל. “גם לנו היה ג׳נוסייד”, השיח הצעיר לפי תומו ומסע חייו של אורון הוסט אל הקווקז.

הספר, מעט המכיל את המרובה, כתוב במתכונת שמשלבת מחקר היסטורי קפדני, השואף להגיע אל מרב העובדות והנתונים של התקופה, האישים והמקומות, בלי לוותר על מחויבות לערכים אנושיים אוניברסליים. בסופו של הספר דיון פילוסופי־היסטורי: “מדוע אנשי כפר אחד מצילים ואנשי כפר אחר רוצחים?” או מה הקו המפריד בין רוצח לחסיד, בין מציל אנושי לפושע נגד האנושות? הספר כולל רקע על ההיסטוריה הצ’רקסית, על מלחמת העולם השנייה ומוראותיה, היסמכות על מחקרי ג’נוסייד עדכניים וראיונות אישיים מרתקים, שנעשו בישראל ובקווקז, עם שארית הפליטה של הניצולים והמצילים.

אורון אינו מהסס לנקוט עמדה נגד הגזענות של “יד ושם”, במיוחד בעת הזאת: “הטענה שבין 32 הילדים שניצלו היו גם לא יהודים, ולפיכך אין לתת למי שהציל לא יהודי תואר חסיד אומות העולם, תפישה כזאת מנוגדת למערכת הערכים של המצילים: קדושת חיי אדם ושוויון ערך חיי אדם באשר הוא אדם”.

לפי אורון, במהלך המאה ה–20 נהרגו למעלה מ–170 מיליון בני אדם בפשעים נגד האנושות. אסור לנו להסתפק בקידוש שמם של שישה מיליון מהם בלבד. כי הרוע הוא כלל אנושי והשואה, השואות, הן אנושיות ולא ייחודיות אך לנו היהודים. לא בכדי משתמש אורון בביטוי “בנאליות” של חנה ארנדט ככותרת לכמה מספריו, גם זה שלפנינו. הוא דוחה את הדיכוטומיה הישראלית, הציונית הקלאסית, שעל פיה השואה התרחשה על פלנטה אחרת, והשואה היא רק שלנו, ולא קשורה לכלל חולייו של המין האנושי. בכל מקום שבו הרוע, אומר אורון, שמה הטוב: “במעשה ההצלה של הכפר בסלניי באה לידי ביטוי ייחודי, אישי וקבוצתי האנושיות בביטוייה הנעלים ביותר: ‘הבנאליות של החמלה, החסד והאנושיות'”.

טוב תעשה מערכת החינוך אם תהפוך גם את הספר הזה לספר חובה בכל תוכנית לימודים אפשרית, באזרחות, בהיסטוריה, בלימודי השואה, בספרות. ולו כדי שיגדלו בקרבנו כמה ישראלים לא ציניים, שיממשו את דרכו העיונית של אורון בעולם המעשה הקשה שלנו.