Wiesel’s original book was divided into nine segments and our Wolfnote is
Elie Wiesel is the son of a devout shopkeeper living in the village of
Sighet. He has three sisters, one younger and two older than himself. He is twelve years old and is an avid scholar of the Jewish faith. He has studied the Talmud and the mystical writings of the Kabbalah.
His main assistant in his studies is Moshe the Beadle who works as a
handyman for the synagogue in Sighet.
Normally after the evening service Moshe and Elie study together. Elie is an adept student and focuses most of his spare time on understanding God’s teachings. He would rather study the ancient texts than go and play football with his contemporaries. Moshe tells Elie that the way to enlightenment comes through asking questions of God, and to acknowledge that sometimes when God answers these questions they are not always in an understandable form. It is only through death that all will be revealed.
One day the Hungarian police arrest Moshe along with other ‘undesirables’
and they are herded onto cattle cars. Elie is greatly saddened over the loss of his instructor. The villagers show acceptance of this situation as being one of the burdens of war that they must suffer.
Some months later Moshe returns and tells the villagers that the captives
were taken to Poland and driven into the forest where huge graves had been dug and they were gunned-down with machine guns.
These butchers made sport of using small children as target practice. Moshe was shot in the leg and left for dead. He was able to make his escape. As he recounts his story, Moshe breaks down, and the villagers conclude that he has lost his mind.
The war continues through 1942, 1943 and into the Spring of 1944, and the
villagers are able to follow the progress of the war by listening to London radio. They learn that the Germans face defeat in Hungary from the advancing Russian army.
Elie is concerned about their fate however, and urges his father to leave
while they still can, but Shlomo says, “I’m too old my son. I’m too old to start a new life. I’m too old to start from scratch again in a country so far away.”
It was still possible to obtain permits to immigrate to Palestine.
Word comes from the capital Budapest, of anti-Semitism and that Jewish
businesses are being targeted and Jews arrested in the streets. A few days later, German army cars suddenly appear in the village streets, and the Jews carry out their religious services in their own homes.
Directives are issued that Jews are to remain indoors and be prepared to relinquish all their valuables. They must also wear a yellow cloth star, symbolic of the Star of David on their clothing. They are also forbidden to go to restaurants, caf's, trains and their synagogues.
The occupying Germans then set up two ghettos surrounded by barbed wire, and
the Jews are rounded-up and confined in these ghettos.
The local police officer, Stern, summons Shlomo where he learns that they
are all to be deported next day.
They will only be allowed to take a few personal items and some food. They are not told where their destination will be, but the rumor is that they are headed for the Hungarian brick factories. Their deportation runs like clockwork. 8.00 a.m. the Hungarian police order Jews outside, into the streets using their clubs and rifle butts to keep them in order. By 1.00 p.m. all the Jews are present in the streets and they are marched out of the village.
Elie’s family is fortunate. They are not deported that day and are
returned to the smaller ghetto where the ground is littered with the possessions of the first deportees.
For four days they think they have escaped deportation, but then they too
are rounded-up and board the crowded cattle cars – eighty to a car – and head to an unknown destination.
Elie will provide us with an account of his experiences starting with his
life in the village of Sighet before his capture and transportation by the S.S., until his liberation by the American forces.
We will also observe his own transformation from a devout Jewish boy, eager
to learn about his faith, to a dehumanized survivor of the concentration camps where he was an inmate.
Although Elie is from a devout family, his grandparents being Rabbis, it is
an outsider Moshe the Beadle who takes it upon himself to tutor the boy because he acknowledges this young man’s potential in the faith.
At this stage in his life Elie is a sensitive boy and he weeps for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman troops governed by Titus. Little does Elie appreciate that he will also suffer at the hands of a dictator similar to Titus whose name is Adolf Hitler.
We witness the situation where the Jewish community trusts God to protect
them, and how Elie’s father refuses to take steps to avoid his family’s capture.
Several times in the book prophecies are made by certain characters, which are not heeded by those around them. For a race whose religion is entwined with the words received by prophets, this group in Signet seem fated not to heed the words of the prophets in their midst. The first such prophesy comes from Moshe who miraculously escapes death at the hands of the German troops. He is able to return to his community and bear witness to what he has seen, but the Jews if Sighet refuse to come face to face with the realities that Moshe tells them about, and decide to take the easier, but deadly route of explaining Moshe’s warnings as the ravings of a madman. The Jews have faced persecution throughout history as detailed elsewhere in this Wolfnote, so you would think that they would put some credence in the words of Moshe. Perhaps it is because they reside in a backwater of Europe and don’t believe such atrocities can happen to them that they decide not to resist or escape the impending threat. However, it is surprising that Elie, being versed in the sufferings of his people over the ages, is not more persuasive in urging his father to take the escape route still open to them by immigrating to Palestine.