Night Faith in Elie Wiesel's Thesis
Excerpt from Thesis :
In this case, Wiesel attempted to trust God the way his mentor and the other religious villagers did, but each family was moved and deported. Moshe the Beadle escaped just to be labeled a lunatic, and the hope in God proved futile. In such circumstances, the most faithful of people would remind themselves to take joy in suffering for their faiths, to remind themselves that the Bible gives instructions for such difficult moments. Like Wiesel, I would have been able to cope in such a way for a while, but soon, my faith would be tested as well. As plague after plague continued to occur, just as it did in Wiesel's experience, my faith would begin to suffer, as I wondered why God was not saving those who were not only coming to him in their time of need, but had always been steadfast believers.
Wiesel's faith continued to take hits as he and fellow Jews were transported to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Not only did he then see his mentors' hope amidst their unanswered prayers, but also he began to witness as others not only turned from their faiths, but also began to abuse their fellow sufferers. For Wiesel, this begins first with Madame Schachter on the train that takes the Jews of the Sighet to Auschwitz. As the woman foretells the furnaces in which Jews' bodies are burned, she is tied, gagged, and beaten (Wiesel 23-24). Wiesel would continue to experience this phenomenon throughout his imprisonment the concentration camp. Those put in charge often conducted themselves even more severely than the non-Jewish prison guards. Men who were imprisoned for their faith abandoned that faith in order to survive, even to the extent of nearly killing or wishing a person dead for his daily ration. One incident in particular struck Wiesel as atrocious. After being forced to run miles in the snow on their way from Auschwitz to Burchenwald, Rabbi Eliahou, one of those who has managed to remain more pious in
the midst of tribulation, comes searching for his son, and Wiesel concludes that his son must have left him purposely to make his own survival easier (86-87). In this instant, Wiesel forms a "prayer" to the God "in whom [he] no longer believed" not to do the same misdeed to his father (87).
Thus, Wiesel looses his faith in God because of his experiences. First, he witnesses horrors done to those who had always believed in God. Next, he realizes that their prayers have not been answered, though they do not give up. Finally, he witnesses those who were persecuted for their faith abandoning that faith to commit despicable deeds in the name of survival. Because Wiesel sees no divine intervention in this processes, he becomes convinced that God does not exist. If he did, how could he let such horrible things happen? While Wiesel's experience is certainly horribly unique, the effects of it are not. Had a Protestant, Catholic, or Muslim been subjected to the horrors that Wiesel saw, they would most likely have similar reactions. Taught to believe that God would intervene in the midst of trials, they could not help but question why he was not.
Of course, for the modern Catholic can consider another angle to these tragedies. Taught to believe God is omnipotent, they could rest in the realization that God has all in his plans, that he is allowing these things to happen for some greater purpose. Even in the midst of trials, therefore, the modern Catholic could stay strong in his or her belief that God is supreme and that life in this would is secondary to eternal life. Thus, the modern Catholic, if subjected to the same terrors as Wiesel, could rely on hope. However, in the midst of such dire circumstances, hope is easily broken. It would be easy for the modern Catholic to focus on mere survival rather than spirituality, just as Wiesel began to do throughout his concentration camp days.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York:…
Sources Used in Documents:
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang, 1960.
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