An old man has died, an old Jew, one of millions trapped in Hitler’s evil vice. And one of the few to survive and tell us about it.
Elie Weisel has died at age 87. His was one of the great voices for humanity, for humanness, for peace in the 20th century. He was highly intelligent, gently firm, quietly warm. He spoke with a clear voice about the horrors of the Nazi regime but he did so without any ranting and raving. He simply told stories, including his own.
If you’ve not read his little book called Night, you must correct that problem as soon as possible. It is his story from Hitler’s era. Abduction, transportation, incarceration. He tells the story with simplicity, without histrionics. It is a story of unspeakable horrors, yet told without rancor. It is, therefore, a remarkable take which is essential reading for us all.
After the war, Weisel was a wonderful advocate for peace, justice, and religious toleration. He spoke for Jews, of course, but any who heard him or read his writings felt that he was speaking for them, too. He transcended all the boundaries by which we artificially divide ourselves into this camp and that.
Something deep and beautiful in Weisel outlasted the evils of the Nazis but his trust in God was severely damaged. He sometimes described himself as agnostic. That was true for many who were brutalized by the demonic hatred embodied in Hitler. The pain was so great that they simply could not comprehend how a just and compassionate God could allow it. No one who was not there in the camps, smelling the stench of burning humans, awaiting their turn, has the right to argue or criticize them for their own particular form of agnosticism.
We can say, “Thank you, Lord, for letting Elie survive” but we cannot and must not ever say, “And you, too, Elie, must thank God.”
We stand in silence with Elie Weisel and his fellow Jews, wounded by human cruelty, sometimes bewildered by God’s delay of justice, but never wanting to force ourselves and our theologies onto anyone else.
Justice will win in the end. Of that I have no doubt. But in the meantime, only the naive believe justice always wins on this side of the grave. We humans fight too hard and too long against justice. If only we would fight so hard for peace. . .