On the eve of Rosh Hashanah,
the last day of that accused year, the whole camp [Buna] was electric with
the tension which was in all our hearts. In spite of everything, this day
was different from any other. The last day of the year. The word "last"
rang very strangely. What if it were indeed the last day?
They gave us our evening meal, a very thick soup, but no one touched it. We
wanted to wait until after prayers. At the place of assembly, surrounded by
the electrified barbed wire, thousands of silent Jews gathered, their faces
Night was falling. Other prisoners continued to crowd in, from every block,
able suddenly to conquer time and space and submit both to their will.
"What are You, my God," I thought angrily, "compared to this
afflicted crowd, proclaiming to You their faith, their anger, their revolt?
What does Your greatness mean, Lord of the Universe, in the face of all this
weakness, this decomposition, and this decay? Why do You still trouble their
sick minds, their crippled bodies?"
Ten thousand men had come to attend the solemn service, heads of the blocks,
Kapos, functionaries of death.
"Bless the Eternal..."
The voice of the officiant had just made itself heard. I thought at first
it was the wind.
"Blessed be the Name of the Eternal!"
Thousands of voices repeated the benediction: thousands of men prostrated
themselves like trees before a tempest.
"Blessed be the Name of the Eternal!"
Why, but why should I bless Him? In every fiber I rebelled. Because He had
had thousands of children burned in His pits? Because He kept six crematoria
working night and day, on Sundays and feast days? Because in His great might
He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many factories of death?
How could I say to Him: "Blessed are You, Eternal Master of the Universe,
who chose us from amongst the races to be tortured day and night, to see our
fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end in the crematorium? Praised by Your
Holy Name, You who has chosen us to be butchered on Your altar?"
I heard the voice of the officiant rising up, powerful yet at the same time
broken, amid the tears, the sobs, the signs of the whole congregation,
"All the earth and the universe are God's!"
He kept stopping every moment, as though he did not have the strength the
find the meaning beneath the words. The melody choked in his throat.
And I, mystic that I had been, I thought:
"Yes, man is very strong, greater than God. When You were deceived by
Adam and Eve, You drove them out of paradise. When Noah's generation displeased
You, You brought down the Flood. When Sodom no longer found favor in Your
eyes, You made the sky rain down fire and sulphur. But these men here, whom
You have betrayed, whom You have allowed to be tortured, butchered, gassed,
burned, what do they do? They pray before You! They praise Your Name!"
"All creation bears witness to the greatness of God!"
Once, New Year's Day had dominated my life. I knew that my sins grieved the
Eternal; I implored His forgiveness. Once, I had believed profoundly that
upon one solitary deed of mine, one solitary prayer, depended the salvation
of the world.
This day, I had ceased to plead. I was no longer capable of lamentation. On
the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes
were open and I was alone terribly alone in a
world without God and without man. Without love or mercy. I had ceased to
be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty,
to whom my life had been tied for so long. I stood amidst that praying congregation,
observing it like a stranger.
The service ended with the Kaddish. Everyone recited the Kaddish
over his parents, over his children, over his brothers, and over himself.
We stayed for a long time at the assembly place. No one dared to drag himself
away from this rage. Then it was time to go to bed, and slowly the prisoners
made their way over to their blocks. I heard people wishing on another a Happy
by Stella Rodway. From: Night by Eli Wiesel (Hill and Wang, New