Jewish Calendar - Tishrei / Rosh Hashanah

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 stricken.

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 New Year.

Translated by Stella Rodway. From: Night by Eli Wiesel (Hill and Wang, New York 1960)



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