Posted by: cochinblogger | September 27, 2010

The Eliezer Moment

I’ve read books on Nazi concentration camps, but none chilled me to the bone as did Night by Elie Wiesel. This book, originally written in Yiddish, is a first-person account by a Holocaust survivor who was taken to the camps when he was in his teens. From the preface to a new translation, I give this heart-rending description of the author’s father’s death in the camp.

I remember that night, the most horrendous of my life.

” … Eliezer, my son, come here … I want to tell you something … Only to you … Come, don’t leave me alone … Eliezer …”

I heard his voice, grasped the meaning of his words and the tragic dimension of the moment, yet I did not move.

It had been his last wish to have me next to him in his agony, at the moment when his soul was tearing itself from his lacerated body — yet I did not let him have his wish.

I was afraid.

Afraid of the blows.

That was why I remained deaf to his cries.

Instead of sacrificing my miserable life and rushing to his side, taking his hand, reassuring him, showing him that he was not abandoned, that I was near him, that I felt his sorrow; instead of all that, I remained flat on my back, asking God to make my father stop calling my name, to make him stop crying. So afraid was I to incur the wrath of the SS.

In fact, my father was no longer conscious.

Yet his plaintive, harrowing voice went on piercing the silence and calling me, nobody but me.

“Well?” The SS had flown into a rage and was striking my father on the head: “Be quiet, old man! Be quiet!”

My father no longer felt the club’s blows; I did. And yet I did not react. I let the SS beat my father, I left him alone in the clutches of death. Worse; I was angry with him for having been noisy, for having cried, for provoking the wrath of the SS.

“Eliezer! Eliezer! Come, don’t leave me alone …”

His voice had reached me from so far away, from so close. But I had not moved.

I shall never forgive myself.

Nor shall I ever forgive the world for having pushed me against the wall, for having turned me into a stranger, for having awakened in me the basest, most primitive instincts.

His last word had been my name. A summons. And I had not responded.

Read this book to understand why the state of Israel behaves as it does. In its single-minded determination to ensure that its people are not victimized in this manner again, I only hope it does not unwittingly take its eye off its moral compass and find itself playing the role of perpetrator of injustice. Some would argue it already has.

This book shows the human side of history. It’s an intensely personal account, as the excerpt shows. So it is appropriate to end on a personal note.

The above excerpt shook me, in part because it cut too close to the bone, resonating too closely with my own Eliezer moment, what I still find it hard to forgive myself for: lying down exhausted from lack of sleep and stress on the floor beside my dying mother’s (though I did not know it then) hospital bed, entrusting her to the care of the duty doctors and nurses and servant girl, and being awakened to be told she had died.

What is your Eliezer moment?

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