Thursday, April 09, 2009

Elie Wiesel: "I was fifteen years old"

from Elie Wiesel's "Night":

[Jews from Auschwitz are being transported into Germany as the Allies advance. Local Germans on the side of the road sometimes throw pieces of bread into the passing train cars. Wiesel witnesses an old man who manages to grab a piece of bread.]

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"He collapsed. His fist was still clenched around a small piece. He tried to carry it to his mouth. But [his son] threw himself upon him and snatched it. The old man again whispered something, let out a rattle, and died amid the general indifference. His son searched him, took the bread, and began to devour it. He was not able to get very far. Two men had seen and hurled themselves upon him. Others joined in. When they withdrew, next to me were two corpses, side by side, the father and the son.

I was fifteen years old."

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When I myself was 15, I was mourning the death of John Lennon and willing myself to die so that I could be reincarnated back to 1965 or so, the height of Beatlemania, when I just KNEW I'd be happy.

My parents had just gotten divorced the year before. Dad was driving by the house constantly, showing up creepily at 2am or so, sometimes banging on the back door, sometimes silently peering in windows, sometimes sleeping in his car in the driveway. Since we lived out in the country, a "rural route" address, the cops were always slow (or never) to arrive whenever called. And when they did show up, they said to my mother: "His name's on the mailbox. He must live here. What's the complaint?"

When I was 15, I was a nervous, horrified wreck of a child.

I was reading Wiesel's book "Night" on the bus home today, and when I came to "I was fifteen years old" I started crying. Not loud or anything, for people around me to notice, but still. It was one of the saddest things I've ever read. I felt ashamed for being traumatized by a creepy dad peering in a window, sleeping in the drive. Wiesel at 15, on the other hand, was in a cattle-car in winter with his own father, watching him die, watching family members kill each other for a scrap of bread...

My personal "traumas" are minor, so minor.

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