The problem of evil has many faces. Unfortunately, none of them are pretty, but all of them very real. Elie Wiesel book, Night, is one of those faces.
The believer’s tragedy is how a good God could allow such suffering and injustice. Is God good? Is God all powerful? Evil can’t be glossed over in theoretical arguments but it pain must be felt. Here is an excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s book Night when as a young teenager of faith, he experiences his first night in Auschwitz:
But I told him that I did not believe that they could burn people in our age, that humanity would never tolerate it.
“Humanity? Humanity is not concerned with us. Today anything is allowed. Anything is possible, even these crematories…”
His voice was choking.
“Father,” I said, “if that is so, I don’t want to wait here. I’m going to run to the electric wire. That would be better than slow agony in the flames.”
He did not answer. He was weeping. His body was shaken convulsively. Around us, everyone was weeping. Someone began to recite the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. I do not know if it has ever happened before, in the long history of the Jews, that people have ever recited the prayer for the dead themselves.
Yitgadal veyitkadach shmé raba…. May His Name be blessed and magnified….” whispered my father.
For the first time, I felt revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for?
We continued our march. We were gradually drawing closer to the ditch, from which an infernal heat was rising. Still twenty steps to go. If I wanted to bring about my own death, this was the moment. Our line had now only fifteen paces to cover. I bit my lips so that my father would not hear my teeth chattering. Ten steps still. Eight. Seven. We marched slowly on, as though following a hearse at our own funeral. Four steps more. Three steps. There it was now, right in front of us, the pit and its flames. I gathered all that was left of my strength, so that I could break from the ranks and throw myself upon the barbed wire. In the depths of my heart, I bade farewell to my father, to the whole universe; and, in spite of myself, the words formed themselves and issued in a whisper from my lips: Yitgadal veyitkadach shmé raba…. May His name be blessed and magnified…. My heart was bursting. The moment had come. I was face to face with the Angel of Death….
No. Two steps from the pit we were ordered to turn to the left and made to go into a barracks.
I pressed my father’s hand. He said:
“Do you remember Madame Schächter, in the train?”
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. 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 that 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.
For more on Elie Wiesel, see http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/wiesel/index.shtml