what was it like to be in a
concentration camp? With death ever-present and hope an irrelevant word?
Could I have survived? Could you? How would one possibly find redemption
in such darkness and depravity? Could any of our emaciated, crushed
people even have dreamed that the rebirth of the Jewish state was to
occur a mere three years after the slaughter?
On January 27, 1945 the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated. Two
of those who survived recorded their experiences that we might dare look
through the window of their tortured souls. We want to look away, to wish
it never happened. But we must not. It is an inerasable part of our
story. On the other hand, we must not become paralyzed. To remain fixated
on the endless grave - the ashes - is to surrender to death, granting the
Enemy posthumous victory.
(Wikiphoto by D. Shankbone)
Night is Elie Wiesel's haunting account of deportation from
the Transylvanian town of Sighet and incarceration in Nazi death camps.
As a teenager Wiesel was swallowed by the experience. To read this
masterpiece of description and self-disclosure is to be dropped into its
frozen frame of time.
"I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from
my mother and Tzipora (my baby sister) forever." (page 27)
Descending into the maelstrom of inescapable horror, young Wiesel - who
had been a passionate student of Talmud and rigorously committed to daily
synagogue prayer - ceased to pray.
"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." (page 32)
Even so, "we decided that, if we were granted our lives until
liberation, we would not stay in Europe a day longer. We would take the
first boat to Haifa." (page 48)
While pouring out the emotions that were seared numb at Auschwitz, the
future Nobel Prize winner admits that there was hope embodied in the
Man's Search for Meaning
Hope is the very theme taken up by another brilliant Auschwitz survivor,
Dr. Viktor Frankl. A published Austrian Jewish psychiatrist, Frankl
analyzed the internal reality of prisoners in his classic Man's
Search for Meaning.
(Wikiphoto by F. Vesely)
"Life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most
miserable ones." (page 12)
After recounting his endless days as a common laborer, under the
sickening shadow of the ovens where fellow Jews were turned to ash by the
hundreds of thousands, Frankl writes this profound conclusion.
"Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life.
This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled
by him alone ... Man ... is able to live and even to die for the sake of
his ideals and values." (page 105)
Riveting is the depth of his experience while thinking of his wife during
an endless forced march through icy conditions. While stumbling in the
dark he concluded:
"... that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can
aspire ... The salvation of man is through love and in love." (page
In a barracks speech to his fellow sufferers the doctor spoke of the many
opportunities that give life meaning. He tried to shore up their courage,
to show that there was still something to look forward to in the future.
Life from the Dead seen by Israel's Prophets
Israel's prophets foresaw a time of terrible suffering. Their
lasting testament, however, is life rising out of death. As if
viewing both the ovens of Auschwitz and the rebirth of Israel, they spoke
of a miraculous resurrection. Without seeing, they saw. One saw ashes
turned to beauty (Isaiah 61:2). Another saw dried out bones - a whole
valley of them - rising up as refabricated Jews. They came up from their
graves, returning to Eretz Yisrael to receive His Spirit and a new heart
Young Holocaust victims
(Wikiphoto by Czeslawakoka)
One cannot understand the nature of Israeli society without touching the
Holocaust. Our intensity, our drive to defend ourselves, our
assertiveness with each other, the invisible backdrop of trauma - all
these can be traced back to the immeasurable tragedy that ended 70 years
ago. I am not justifying arrogance or mistrust. But awareness of the
nightmare that preceded our return from the death camps is essential if
we are to participate in the Messianic revival promised by these same