|Elie Wiesel (born 1928) was born in Sighet, Romania
and is the author of more than 57 books.
He is a Holocaust survivor and was a prisoner
in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration
camps in 1944 and 1945. He won the Nobel
Peace Prize in 1986.
When I asked my students the other night how many faces were in the classroom, they hesitated to answer. One man said, “Do you mean we wear one face for the world but carry many other faces inside us?” I said that was a good answer but not what I was looking for. Then an Oh of understanding came from the back of the room, and a student pointed to the posters on the wall.
Here’s an excerpt from Wiesel’s novel The Time of the Uprooted, published in 2005.
I’m four years old, or maybe five. It’s a Sabbath afternoon. Mother is lying down in the next room. I’d asked her to read to me from the book she had by her side, but she has one of her frequent headaches. So I ask my father to tell me a story, but just then there’s a knock at the door. “Go see who it is,” says my father, reluctantly glancing up from the journal he’s keeping. A stranger is at the door.
“May I come in,” he asks. A big bearded man, broad across the shoulders, with sad eyes — there’s something disturbing about him. His gaze seems heavy with secrets, and glows with a pale and holy fire.
“Who’s there?” my father asks, and I reply, “I don’t know.”
“Call me a wanderer,” the stranger says, “a wandering man who’s worn-out and hungry.”
“Who do you want to see?” I ask, and he says to me, “You.”
|Wiesel at age 15, just before deportation.
Who is it, a beggar?” my father asks. “Tell him to come in.” No matter what the hour, my father would never deny his home to a stranger seeking a meal or a night’s shelter, and certainly not on the Sabbath.
The stranger comes in at a slow but unhesitating pace. Father stands to greet him and leads him to the kitchen. He shows the stranger where to wash his hands before reciting the usual prayer, offers him a seat, and sets before him a plate of cholent and hallah [stew and bread]. But the stranger doesn’t touch it. “You’re not hungry?” my father says.
“Oh yes, I’m hungry, and I’m thirsty, but not for food.”
“Then what is it you want?”
“I want words and I want faces,” says the stranger. “I travel the world and look for people’s stories.” I’m enchanted by a stranger’s voice. It is the storyteller: It envelops my soul. He continues: “I came here today to put you to the test, to measure your hospitality. And I can tell you that what I’ve seen pleases me.” With that, he gets to his feet and strides to the door.
“Don’t tell me you are the prophet Elijah,” says my father.
“No, I’m not a prophet.” The stranger smiles down at me. “I told you, I’m just a wanderer. A crazy wanderer.”
|Photo taken at Buchenwald liberation. Wiesel is in the
second row of bunks, seventh from the
left, next to the vertical beam.
Ever since that encounter, I’ve loved vagabonds with their sacks full of tales of princes who became what they are for love of freedom and solitude. I delight in madmen. I love to see their crazed, melancholy faces and to hear their bewitching voices, which arouse in me forbidden images and desires. Or rather, it’s not the madness itself I love, but those it possesses, those whose souls it claims, as if to show them the limits of their possibilities — and then makes them determined to go further, to push themselves beyond those limits. It’s second nature with me. Some collect paintings; other love horses. Me, I’m attracted to madmen. Some fear them, and so put them away where no one can hear them cry out. I find some madmen entertaining, but others do indeed frighten me, as if they know that a man is just the restless and mysterious shadow of a dream, and that dream may be God’s. I have to confess that I enjoy their company, I want to see through their eyes the world die each night, only to be reborn with dawn, to pursue their thoughts as if they were wild horses, to hear them laugh and make others laugh, to intoxicate myself without wine, and to dream with my eyes open.
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