How Could This Have Happened



How Could This Have Happened?
Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Jewish massacre during World War II, opens his classic autobiography, Night, in his hometown of Sighet, Transylvania (now Romania). In this short, but powerful, book, Wiesel speaks of the incredible events that take place in his life from age twelve to age sixteen; his carefree childhood; the brutal torture of Wiesel and his fellow Jews at the hands of German soldiers in the concentration camps; and the day of his liberation in the spring of 1945.
Although World War II began in 1939, when Hitler and his troops invaded Poland and set up concentration camps, Sighet remains under Hungarian control. The year is 1941. Wiesel is twelve years old and is a bright, religious Jewish boy who studies the Talmud, the collection of writings constituting the Jewish civil and religious law. However, he wants to go deeper into Judaism by studying the cabbala, an occult mysterious form of Jewish philosophy developed by certain Jewish rabbis, based on a mystical interpretation of the Scriptures. His father refuses to help him with the cabbala, so Wiesel begins to talk with Moche the Beadle, a poor, humble, somewhat strange individual, who works at the synagogue. Moche teaches Wiesel that it is not the right answers that one should seek from God, but rather to know the right questions to ask God.
Wiesel’s father, an important man of the community, his mother, and three sisters lead a normal life, making plans and socializing with friends and relatives, believing that they will be untouched by the horrors of the war, despite a warning from Moche the Beadle and rumors from other areas of the war front. It is in the spring of 1944 that the day of reckoning arrives in Sighet. German soldiers enter the town and set up ghettoes surrounded by barbed wire. From that day forward, Wiesel’s life will never be the same.
Darkness begins to fill his days and nights. He is afraid. He is angry. He is right to be afraid and angry because after he and his family are deported and arrive at Birkenau, the German’s welcome center for Auschwitz, Wiesel’s childhood is destroyed forever. The Jews suffer miserable crowded conditions during the train ride to Birkenau. Wiesel watches in horror as his fellow Jews brutal, tie, and gag Madame Schachter, who has become hysterical. She is screaming of seeing visions of fire and flames in the distance. Nothing, however, can compare to what he found at Birkenau, the smoke, the smell of burning flesh from the crematories, and the flames from the pits where babies and young children were being thrown.
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 life. 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. (Wiesel 32)

This is the darkest “night” of Wiesel’s young life, but the Germans have only begun their torture campaign. Families are separated, food, water, and sanitary conditions are in short supply, and the Jews are treated worse than unwanted, stray animals. This type of mental and psychological torture would follow Wiesel and his fellow Jews through-out their days in the concentration camps.
Wiesel surely thought about how the Jews may have contributed to their own problems, although he cannot fault them for their optimism. In Wiesel’s camps, there seemed to be very little resistance put forth by the Jews to try to save themselves from almost certain death. I think that the Jewish people truly believed that if they cooperated with the Germans and their orders, that they would somehow escape their destruction. Wiesel, in his darkest moments, must have thought of the times that he and his family