Contents V8N4

The  BeZine

Volume 8                  December 15, 2021                  Issue 4

Digital painting of two hands holding a bluebird, tan background with some shadows.

Life of the Spirit

Cover art: May the Bluebird of Happiness be with you Always
Digital Art
©2021 Kat Patton


The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Elie Wiesel, “One Must Not Forget”
U.S. News and World Report, 27 Oct. 1986

Elie Wiesel

Life of the Spirit, Activism, and Healing
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winning author, at a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, in 2009.
Bela Szandelszky/AP Source

You may know the story from the book, Night. Born in what was then Romania in 1928, as a teenager Elie Wiesel experienced degradation, slavery, and starvation at the hands of the Nazis, a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald. The Nazis murdered his mother and younger sister on arrival at Auschwitz. He barely survived the Death March from Auschwitz to Buchenwald. His father died in Buchenwald, shortly after the Death March. Only after liberation did he and his two older sisters discover that the others had survived.

You may or may not know that after he left the camps, Wiesel lived in an orphanage for displaced survivors of the Holocaust in France. He went on to study in the Sorbonne, where Existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus influenced him and where he attended lectures by the philosopher Martin Buber. He read extensively, earning money for his studies by leading a choir and then becoming a journalist. He rebuilt his understanding of the world, which had always had a base in religion, using the humanities to help him understand the world and the wound to humanity that was the Holocaust and that echoes, in our time, with continuing hatred and genocide.

Wiesel bore witness to the Holocaust through writing about his own life and experience in the concentration camps and by acting on what he saw as the moral imperative of having survived the Holocaust. He reached out to others, to teach and to learn, and spoke out against forgetting the Holocaust and for the need to prevent genocide, becoming one of the most prominent Jews to do so, then possibly the most prominent person worldwide to do so. He moved into a spotlight on the world stage after winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Even though his legacy has become synonymous with the Holocaust, Wiesel also wrote and lectured on religion, ethics, and moral philosophy. Joseph Berger wrote, shortly after Wiesel’s death:

Wiesel was defined not so much by the work he did as by the gaping void he filled. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, 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 [before Night was published in English], the traumatized survivors—and American Jews, guilt-ridden that they had not done more to rescue their brethren—seemed frozen in silence.

He certainly anchored his own activism against oppression and genocide in his experience of the Holocaust. Bernard-Henri Lévy tells us that Wiesel:

ensured, through his work and henceforth in the minds of those inspired by that work, that the dark memory of that exception that was the Holocaust will not exclude—indeed, that the Holocaust requires—ardent solidarity with all of the victims of all other genocides.

Elie Wiesel continued breaking “frozen silence” by speaking out against human rights abuses.

Wiesel also lived a life of the spirit. He explored the Holocaust and religion, offering entry into a new way of speaking of God and of humanity. Steven Katz wrote:

In effect, in the decades after Auschwitz, Wiesel could not live with God, and he could not live without Him. What religious faith now remained available had to be rebuilt from the fragments of the tradition that had been shattered by the Death Camps.

Katz quotes Wiesel:

Perhaps someday someone will explain how, on the level of man, Auschwitz was possible; but on the level of God it will remain forever the most disturbing of mysteries.

John K. Roth explains that Wiesel holds God responsible, but also:

…never uses God’s responsibility to excuse human-kind. On the contrary, his insistence on human responsibility and its tortuous implications requires him to move from the general to the specific. Nazi perpetrators, bystanders (whose neutrality, indifference, and passivity aided the killers far more than the victims), even some of the victims themselves—all have a share of responsibility to bear.

Steven Katz adds that:

By the 1980s, however, his attitude [toward God], while never uncritical and never without a note of protest—and always involving the unresolved question of where was God at Auschwitz—became less confrontational, less hostile.

Then he quotes a 1997 New York Times essay Wiesel wrote, addressed to God:

In my testimony, I had written harsh words, burning words, about your role in our tragedy…Let us make up, Master of the Universe. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up for the child in me. It is unbearable to be divorced from you so long.

Elie Wiesel’s life iconically embodies life of the spirit, activism, and healing.

—Michael Dickel, Editor

This is part of a larger work in progress
©2021 Michael Dickel and Fisher Features

Camus said, ‘Where there is no hope, one must invent hope.’ It is only pessimistic if you stop with the first half of the sentence and just say, There is no hope. Like Camus, even when it seems hopeless, I invent reasons to hope.”  

Elie Wiesel, TIME, “10 Questions for Elie Wiesel,” January 22, 2006 


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