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  Poseur: Elie Wiesel, survivor; author of book: "Night", about his horrible sufferings at the hands of the Nazis; speaking fee: $25,000 per lecture plus chauffeur-driven car



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Night and the Holocaust:

Things written, things not written, and things altered -- some observations on the received version of the Holocaust in the light of Elie Wiesel first book in non-Yiddish.

By Robert E. Reis, BA, MA
AR-Online special corerspondent

This paper is an analysis of Elie Wiesel's memoir Night as a piece of historical evidence regarding the events now described as the Holocaust.

Wiesel by Stamaty

Elie Wiesel (1928- ) is a French-American author, whose work addresses Jewish themes, including the experiences of Jews who suffered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work promoting human rights.. From 1980 to 1986 Wiesel served as chairman of the U.S. President's Commission on the Holocaust. he is the author of a well known book, Night, often prescribed as set reading for students.

According to the publisher of the 1987 edition, HarperCollins Canada Ltd, the United States Library of Congress classifies Night under the headings "Biography" and "World War 1939-1945 -- Personal Narratives, Jewish." This book is not supposed to be fiction.

ELIE Wiesel's famous book Night was first published in French in 1958 and in an English translation in 1960. (All our quotations here are from the edition contained in The Night Trilogy published by Hill & Wang, New York, 1987.) It is not suspposed to be fiction. According to Encarta® Online: "Wiesel's first book, Night (1958), describes his experience at Auschwitz. Subsequent works include many novels and a book of memoirs." In a 1979 essay, "An Interview Like Any Other," Mr. Wiesel wrote that he published his memoir La Nuit after a 10-year vow of silence only at the urging of Mauriac, whose account of his meeting with the young survivor appears as a foreword to "Night's" French and English editions. [Italics added.]

What can we learn about the Holocaust from Night?

Elie Wiesel dedicated Night to the memory of his parents and his little sister.

Mr. Wiesel introduces us to the horrors of what will later be called the Holocaust with the story of Moché the Beadle. In 1942 this man is deported from Hungary along with many other non-Hungarian Jews who had been living in the Hungarian town of Sighet where the Wiesel family had its home. Several months later he re-appeared in Sighet and told his neighbours that his entire transport had been murdered by the Germans after crossing the frontier into Poland. Nobody believed him.

Mr. Wiesel also tells us that the Jewish people of his town regularly followed the war news broadcast from London. Since we know that the United Press was already distributing charges made by the World Jewish Congress in London as early as June 1942 that the Nazis were executing thousands of Jews each day in Poland and that in December 1942 the allies had issued a joint declaration condemning Germany's "bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination," one must assume that news items like these must have been broadcast from London to the Jews of Sighet. We also know that In August 1943, the United Press distributed an accusation by the Inter-Allied Information Committee in London that stated the conditions at Auschwitz were "particularly severe" and that "58,000 people were believed to have perished" there. The Jews in the Hungarian town seems to have ignored or disbelieved these charges.

Mr. Wiesel tells us that as late as the spring of 1944, in the fifth year of Hitler's wars, the Jews in Hungary could still obtain emigration permits for Palestine, but that his father had refused to sell his business interests in Hungary and "start from scratch in a country so far away . . . " Apparently the government of the Regent Admiral Horthy, the ruler of Hungary, had been following a rather benign policy toward its Jewish citizens even though Hungary was allied with Germany and was contributing troops to the war against the Soviet Union.

In that spring of 1944, with German armies being pushed relentlessly out of the Soviet Union and the Allies preparing to land at Normandy, the Regent accepted the formation of new government led by the Hungarian fascist party, the Nyilas, and this government permitted German troops to enter Hungary.

The Nyilas government quickly introduced a series of increasingly harsh measures aimed at the Jews: restrictions on movement and employment, ghettoization, and finally the wearing of the Jewish star.

Much of what Wiesel describes sounds like organized thievery of Jewish property by the Hungary fascist police organization.

Finally it was announced that the entire community in which the Wiesels lived was to be deported. The reason given was that the front had moved too close to their town. Wiesel tells us that in fact the Jews in their Ghetto were anticipating the arrival of the Red Army and the overthrow of the Hungarian fascist regime.

The round-up and deportation was in the hands of the Hungarian police with the assistance of the Jewish police that had been recruited by the elected Jewish Council that had run the ghetto.

$25,000 a pop: Wiesel speaksThe Wiesels were deported in the second transport from their town. For three days after the first transport had left, they lived on in a ghetto awaiting transport. Wiesel tells us that "the ghetto was not guarded. Everyone could come and go as they pleased." The Wiesels even refused an offer from a former Gentile servant to hide them in her village. Despite listening to the broadcasts from London, it is clear that the Jewish population of Sighet had never heard or never seen any reason to believe that Germany and its allies were following a policy of physically exterminating the Jews of Europe.

Instead, the Wiesels entered the cattle cars for a journey to an unknown destination.

It was only after two days, when the train crossed the frontier into what had been Czechoslovakia, that German officials took charge of the transport and the Wiesels realized that they were leaving Hungary.

During these two days, Wiesel asserts that the young Jews packed eighty to a car with grandparents, parents, and small children "gave away openly to instinct, taking advantage of the darkness to copulate in our midst . . . The rest pretended not to notice anything."

He tells us that one Jewish woman in their cattle car went insane and screamed over and over again that she saw "fire" and "flames." First she was restrained; later she was beaten to unconsciousness by her neighbours.

They arrived at Auschwitz at night.

As anyone familiar with the standard histories of the Holocaust -- Reitlinger, Hilberg, Dawidowicz -- knows, arriving Jews at Auschwitz were forced to endure a "selection" by SS-doctors. We are told that only the healthy Jews were admitted to the camp in order to become slave labourers and that the old, the very young, the infirm, and the women with small children were sent to the gas chambers.

Hungarian Jews(?) arrive at Auschwitz
This picture is said to show Hungrian Jews arriving at the railroad platform at Auschwitz-Birkenau in the spring of 1944. The arrows point to the chimneys of the two main crematoria, II and III.

Mr. Wiesel tells us that upon arrival he could see "flames gushing out of a tall chimney into the black sky" and that he could smell "an abominable odour floating in the air." "We had arrived -- at Birkenau, reception centre for Auschwitz."

Perhaps Mr. Wiesel did see flames gushing out of a tall chimney; however, the sight of flames gushing from a coal-fired crematorium chimney is not seen very frequently, or at all, outside of narratives describing Holocaust crematoria. A crematorium is not a blast furnace.

Mr. Wiesel tells us that he turned on the reception platform and saw an old man fall the ground and a nearby SS-man putting away his pistol. He implies, but does not say that the SS-man had just shot the old Jewish man.

Elie Wiesel was advised by one of the veteran Auschwitz inmates to say that he was eighteen years old instead of fourteen; his father was advised to say he was forty instead of fifty. There is a strong implication that the inmate believed that the consequences of being too young or too old would be dire.

The people on the Wiesel transport were asked by veteran prisoners why they had not hanged themselves rather than allow themselves to be deported to Auschwitz. The prisoners were amazed that the Wiesels -- as late as 1944 -- had never heard of Auschwitz.

This is odd. Elie Wiesel has told us that the Jews of Sighet had been listening to Allied radio broadcasts. Walter Laqueur, the Director of the Institute of Contemporary History in London, wrote in his 1980 study, The Terrible Secret, that Auschwitz was "a veritable archipelago," that "Auschwitz inmates . . . were, in fact, dispersed all over Silesia, and . . . met with thousands of people," and that "hundreds of civilian employees . . . worked at Auschwitz," and that "journalists travelled in the General Government [German administered Poland] and were bound to hear," etc. London had to have had a pretty good idea about conditions in Auschwitz.

After being told by veteran inmates that they would ultimately be cremated at Auschwitz, some of the younger Jews wanted to revolt, to escape, to tell the world about Auschwitz. But they didn't.

The newly arrived Jews from Sighet were first separated by sex. Dr. Mengele makes his first appearance in Night. He is on the reception platform determining where the arriving men from Sighet will be sent. He sent Elie Wiesel and his father "to the left."

We are told that a prisoner warned Elie and his father that going "to the left" meant that they were being sent straight to the crematory. The prisoners information was not correct. The Wiesels were being sent to a reception barracks.

Since the men who were sent "to the right" were all neighbours of the Wiesels and were sharing a common ordeal with them, it would be helpful in the evaluation of the credibility of rumours spread by prisoners to know if the men sent "to the right" were immediately killed or not. Unfortunately Elie Wiesel did not discover their fate -- or he has chosen not to include this information in Night.

On the way to the barracks Mr. Wiesel reports that he saw flames from a "gigantic ditch" into which the Germans were dumping babies from a lorry. "I saw it -- saw it with my own eyes . . . those children in the flames." And he reports: "A little farther on was another and larger ditch for adults." As anyone familiar with the training of psychiatrists knows, psychiatrist are taught to suspect dishonesty when a patient voluntarily and emphatically suggests that something is really, really true. This is the only time in Night that Elie Wiesel insists upon his own veracity in such an emotional manner.

That first night was the night that "has turned my life into one long night."

In the reception barracks the Jews were forced to strip naked and allowed to retain only their shoes and their belts and their heads were shaved. As anyone familiar with the standard histories of the Holocaust -- again, Reitlinger, Hilberg, and Dawidowicz -- knows, Jewish prisoners were force to disrobe and to have their hair shaved off before they were forced into the gas-chambers. We now learn from Elie Wiesel that it was the standard practice to force all new arrivals to disrobe and to have their hair shaved off.

Meanwhile SS officers selected the strongest to work in the Sonderkommando, the unit that worked in the crematoria. Then the new arrivals are marched naked to be disinfected, given a hot shower, and issued uniforms.

But Reitlinger, Hilberg, and Dawidowicz tell us that the gas-chambers in which the Jews were exterminated by means of cyanide released from the crystals of the insecticide Zyklon-B were located in the cellars of the crematories in Birkenau. The Jewish men in the Sonderkommando were forced to live isolated in the crematories and help in the cremation of the bodies of the people gassed in the cellars. The gassings themselves are normally described as an important secret of the Nazis.

Mr. Wiesel now tells us that a Jewish man, Bela Katz, who had been deported from Sighet the week before and who had been selected to work in the crematoria managed to get a message to the newly- arrived prisoners. He tells them that he had already had to burn the body of his own father. (About how the elder Mr. Katz died we are not told.) This event does suggest that the isolation within which the men of the Sonderkommando are said to have worked was not always successful in preventing even a brand new prisoner from communicating with the prisoners outside of the crematories.

Elie Wiesel and his father were assigned to one of the barracks formerly occupied by Gypsies at Birkenau. About the fate of the previous occupants there is not one word in Night. This is odd. Most histories of the Holocaust tell us that the Gypsy section at Birkenau had been exterminated in dramatic circumstances order to make room for the influx of Jews from Hungary like the Wiesels. This is especially odd since we will soon meet in Wiesel's book prisoners who had been in Auschwitz for years. They would have known.

Odder still is the fact that Elie Wiesel now introduces his recollections that a brutal Gypsy deportee was in charge of the barracks to which he and his father were assigned and that this Gypsy knocked Elie's father to the ground with a blow. Later, ten more Gypsies with whips and truncheons will escort the new arrivals out of the Birkenau camp to the separate Auschwitz main camp.

It is reasonable to believe that the Gypsies would have had a powerful interest in knowing the fate of the rest of the Gypsies at Auschwitz. Yet there is nothing in Night to tell us about the reported extermination of the Gypsy section at Birkenau.

Before being admitted to Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp at Auschwitz and still the centre of the administration of the Auschwitz camp tourist complex, the Wiesels were forced to take another hot shower.

Showers, Mr. Wiesel informs us were "a compulsory formality at the entrance to all these camps. Even if you were simply passing from one to another several times a day, you still had to go through the baths every time." Mr. Wiesel never tells us why the Germans insisted on all of this cleanliness.

It seems logical to conclude the shaving of the hair, the disinfection, and the compulsory hot showers were hygienic measures mandated in order to prevent the spread of diseases among the prisoners.

Mr. Wiesel and his father were assigned to Block 17 -- a two-story building made of concrete. Elie tells us that there were gardens among the barracks.

It was only after being transferred from Birkenau Camp to the Main Camp that Mr. Wiesel became prisoner "A-7713." -- his camp tattoo number. This fact tells us that prisoners only received an official identity after they had survived a period of quarantine at the Birkenau camp and had been assigned to a more permanent destination within the Auschwitz complex.

Here the "Wiesel of Sighet," the author's father, was searched out by the husband of his wife's niece, the "Stein of Antwerp." The "Stein of Antwerp" had been deported in 1942 and wanted news of the wife and sons he had left behind in Belgium. The Wiesels had not received any letters from Antwerp since 1940. Elie Wiesel tells us that he lied to his relative and told him that his mother had received news that her niece and the boys were fine. The "Stein of Antwerp" was grateful for the news and began sharing his food rations with the Wiesels. Since the "Stein of Antwerp" had been deported so long before the Wiesels, and he was both a Jew and a relative by marriage, he might have been an excellent source of information about Auschwitz and what had been happening there. Whatever he told the Wiesels, it is not in Night.

At the end of the Wiesel's three weeks in the main camp, a transport from Antwerp arrived. The "Stein of Antwerp" sought it out for more news. He never came back to see the Wiesels.

Elie and his father were re-assigned to the Buna Camp, a large chemical factory and concentration camp that was part of the Auschwitz complex of camps. German guards marched the Wiesels "slowly" to the Buna factory camp.

There they were required to undergo another hot shower and they were quarantined for three days before given any work assignments.

Mr. Wiesel does not tell us that the purpose of the Buna plant was to manufacture synthetic rubber. The Allies were desperately interested in information about artificial rubber production because Japan had over-run much of the rubber producing territory in the world. Allied intelligence would have wanted to know what happened at this crucial German enterprise.

Here he tells us that there were children in the Buna factory camp and that some senior prisoners gave "bread, and soup, and margarine" to the children. He adds that some senior prisoners recruited children for homosexual purposes. Next, a three-doctor panel gave each new prisoner a medical and dental examination. "Anyone who had gold in his mouth had his number added to a list."

The Wiesels were assigned to the barracks that contained the camp orchestra and to a unit of prisoners that worked in a warehouse for electrical equipment under the direct command of a prisoner named "Idek."

Standard histories of the Holocaust tell us that there was an orchestra at Auschwitz that played music while Jews were "selected" for the gas-chambers. We are also told that the gas-chambers were in the cellars of the crematories. The Buna camp was entirely separate from the camps in which crematories are known to have existed. The purpose of an orchestra in the Buna Camp is not explained in Night.

The musician's barrack was under the supervision of a German Jew. Each prisoner was issued a blanket, a wash bowl, and a bar of soap.

Since Elie Wiesel had a gold tooth, he had to deal with a Jewish camp dentist who wanted his tooth. Soon the dentist was arrested by the Germans for running a traffic in contraband gold teeth. Elie kept his gold tooth for a while longer.

Bookworm WieselMr. Wiesel tells us that he was beaten twice by "Idek." The first time, he was beaten for no reason at all. The second time, he was beaten for discovering that "Idek" had made his entire command work on Sunday, apparently a standard day of rest for the prisoners in the Buna complex, so that Idek could have a sexual interlude with a Polish girl at the factory.

Since Mr. Wiesel always identifies persons mentioned in Night by their nationality and identifies them as "Jewish" when applicable, it is odd that all of this information is omitted about "Idek." Since all standard histories of the Holocaust explain that the prisoners at Auschwitz always wore emblems on their clothing that announced their classification or cause of incarceration: politic prisoner, conscientious objector, common criminal, homosexual, etc., and that Jewish prisoners had an unmistakable emblem sewn on their uniforms; Idek's Jewishness or lack thereof would have been immediately apparent to all of the other inmates. Perhaps the circumstance that "Idek" was engaging in a consenting sexual relationship with a gentile girl led our author to omit "Idek's" religion.

Mr. Wiesel tells us that the Jewish prisoners were working along side of non-Jewish prisoners as well as "civilian workers." The "Idek" incident shows that the relations between prisoners and "civilian workers" could lead to intimacies in which confidence are frequently shared.

Soon, Frank, "the Pole," Wiesel's foreman at work, became aware of the unremoved gold tooth. He persecuted Elie's father until the boy agreed to give it up.



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