Recently, as I was working on the book regarding the story of my Uncle Bram’s violin, I came to the conclusion that there was one book that could help me at the very least, try to get some sort of grasp on what Bram went through as a teenager transported to Auschwitz with his father. The book I am referring to is “Night”, by Elie Wiesel. While the impact of reading it was profound, it was nevertheless different than I anticipated, and one might argue even more important.
In September of 1943, 22 days shy of his 19th birthday, my Uncle Bram was murdered in Auschwitz. As I work on giving him the legacy he deserves, through having his memory be remembered in a way that not only gives respect to his memory but also inspires others, reading “Night” seemed logical, albeit difficult. While the impact it had in regard to my work was powerful, it was not what I expected.
When I wrote “Jew Face”, I often successfully tried to feel like I was with my parents as young adults going through the trial and tribulations of evading murder by the Nazis. But trying to do this with someone who was in Auschwitz is an exercise in futility. Probably a fortuitous one. The pure horror described by Elie Wiesel in his book, and the countless accounts and images provided over the years show the devastation as best it can, but the generations that follow are inevitably limited in what they can feel.
In his preface Wiesel writes:
“Only those who experienced Auschwitz know what it was. Others will never know.
But would they at least understand?
Could men and women who consider it normal to assist the weak, to heal the sick, to protect small children, and to respect the wisdom of their elders understand what happened there? Would they be able to comprehend how, within that cursed universe, the masters tortured the weak and massacred the children, the sick, and the old?”
I am not quite sure what it means to understand the unimaginable. I am not sure how to comprehend an army’s mission to dehumanize an entire group of people. Millions of people. I thought that maybe reading the book I could somehow feel like I was there. At least enough to help me write more about what it must have been like for my lost Uncle and millions of others, including so many others in both my mother’s and father’s families. I will not go as far as saying I reached anywhere close to that point, or if I ever will. I do know however that in finishing it something else, maybe even more important happened. I felt an increased sense of responsibility. A responsibility to do more than just read, or even write a book. A responsibility to do something significantly more important than relating to the horrors. My responsibility is to consistently tell the story. To make sure continuing generations know what happened. To let them know that those places that still stand where events leading to the murder of 6 million Jews or where monuments of remembrance have been placed are so much more than tourist attractions. They are the representation of the very soul of those we remember. They have the sanctity of a cemetery, and they give life to the souls of those taken from us by vicious murderers.
I sat down to read “Night” hoping something important would happen to me. While it was not what I expected, I came away with something far more important than I anticipated. An increased determination to make sure the world knows what happened and never forgets. To let it be otherwise would be more than tragic than I could imagine, and substantially more dangerous.
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