Several years ago I came across an extract from this book in a compilation entitled ‘Belief’ which was put together by Francis Collins. I recall its great eloquence and its emotional punch. This gave me a desire to read the book, though I do not really know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading it.
For those that have not heard of the book, it is an account that Wiesel wrote as recollection of the Holocaust, which he survived. From a village in Transylvania, his is present as the population is herded into a ghetto and transported to the concentration camps in Poland via cattle trains. In some graphic detail, he describes the brutality to which he was an eyewitness. The edition I
read also includes his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Perhaps it was fear that prevented me from picking it up. The book has acquired something of a reputation for being immensely powerful, as has The Diary of Anne Frank, another classic of the era which I have not yet read. There ought to be little doubt about how powerful this book is; just reading the introduction was an experience in itself. In reviewing this, I am more aware than ever of how divorced reading can be from real-life experience. Knowing that this gap exists, and yet still experiencing an immense force conveyed by the power of Wiesel’s writing, I can barely imagine the
depth of anguish felt of which his words are but a shadow.
In some ways, I can understand how some might want to wish that the Holocaust was a fiction. The horrors described here find no place in my comfortable, 21st century English world. I could not countenance babies being tossed on a bonfire, some alive when they were so discarded. As well as providing an eyewitness account on history, this reads an exercise in the dehumanisation of people. With people moved from camp to camp, relationships are broken, making any contact within the camps transient.
As gut-wrenching as this book is, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I feel ashamed to have not read it earlier in life.