26 January 2015
From the Night Comes a Dawn
In the memoir by Elie Wiesel detailing his experience in the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust in the 1940s, Elie is a young boy of fifteen when he loses his faith in God. Having been raised in a community that had many Jewish people, he was surrounded by spirituality from a young age. His spiritual death from the concentration camps is one of the prominent themes of the book. Wiesel’s initial devotion to God and to his faith undergoes a radical transformation in the face of his harrowing experiences, resulting in an apparently soulless and cynical atheism, yet his faith survives to some degree in spite of overwhelming odds, and in subsequent years revived sufficiently to motivate the writing and dedicating of his memoir.
At the start of the autobiography, Elie shows his devout faith in God profoundly. He believed in God so much that every night he would run “to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple” (14). This is his initial attitude towards his belief that he often shares with Moché the Beadle who played a key part in the early development of Elie’s faith. He and Moché discussed the way to God nearly every night, asking questions about Him and how to reach Him. Elie confided that he was unhappy because he could not find a master in Sighet to teach him the holy books of Jewish mysticism. At this point, Moché began to actively teach Elie the cabbala and the conviction that Moché would lead him to the ultimate answer to God grew within Elie (15).
But as the warring front grew closer, the war progressed, and the Gestapo set up the ghetto around Sighet, the faith in Elie begins to wane, and it begins during the week of Passover. The Bible had bade them “rejoice during the seven days of the feast” (20) but Elie expressed that they wished the feast was over. He even went as far as to call Passover, the event in which God saves his people by sending Moses to free them from the slavery of Egypt, a comedy. The Elie from before the ghetto wouldn’t have called one of the holiest events in the Bible a big joke because his faith had been one of the most precious things to him. Surrounded by soldiers and the walls of the ghetto, he says that this is when “the race toward death had begun” (20). It is also, arguably, the start of the race toward the death of Elie’s faith in the religion that he had once held so close to his heart.
As the deportation of the Sighet Jews begins, Elie begins to find that he is no longer completely and mindlessly devoted to God. While his family is being made to march towards the ghetto, he recounts that he looked at his house where he had spent years searching for God, “fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah” (28) and in imagining what his life would be like, but thinks of nothing and feels little sorrow in parting with the old house that held such sentimental spiritual value. Elie finds his faith waning even more at the sight of the expulsion of his people because as they reach the ghettos, the people from his old neighborhood and himself throw themselves down to the ground and ask God to have pity on them (29)
. Despite feeling disconnected with God, Elie still falls back on his old religious habits of praising the Lord. The night before the Jews of Sighet were to be put on their death train to Aushwitz, “no one prayed” and the stars were “dead eyes” (30). Elie uses the motif of eyes to say that he no longer believed that God was looking out for His people, that He had turned a blind eye against the mistreatment of the Jews. Elie is basically asking, Where is God?
Once at Auschwitz, Elie is forced to face the degradation and elimination of his fellow Jews. As he waits in line to be burned alive in the crematory, he hears the people around him reciting the Kaddish, the mourners prayer. He said that he did not know if any Other Jew had ever prayed the Kaddish for himself. Elie’s father is one of these people who