Rethinking Jewish Faith: The Child of a Survivor Responds

By Steven L. Jacobs | Go to book overview

Foreword

A noticeable Tendenz among individuals who lived through the horrors of the German labor and death camps is to talk about their pre-World War II life and compare it to their experiences in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and other detention hell points. In addition, these tendency reports (oral and written) reveal the problems of Jews from decimated communities who try to go on with their lives after the war. Collectively, the eyewitness accounts talk of mental cruelty and physical torture, banishment and loneliness, and the inability of the survivors even to return to a state of normalcy. Still, a number of them devote themselves to examining through the Shoah experience in political action groups, outreach networks, and various forms of therapy.

The image-laden memories illustrate that the survivors of the Shoah are not saints but a group of ordinary people subjected to extraordinary stress and dehumanization, resulting for many in animallike acts of survivalism and regression to infantilism. However, Jews who endured suffering at the hands of Nazis were heroic on a much more basic human level, for certainly it is correct to view their endurance as being of heroic proportions. In word and in deed, these survivors were in control over the uncontrollable.

But how do we explain the inexplicable in terms of theology and religious obligation?

Noble Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has observed on more than one occasion that the Shoah is the ultimate paradox: it imposes silence even while it imposes questions. At the closing convocation of the Oxford Conference on "Remembering the Future: The Impact of the Holocaust and Genocide on Jews and Christians" ( July 10-17, 1988), he compared the Shoah to the revelation at Sinai: "Auschwitz seemed to me as anti-Sinai. Something essential was revealed there; it will take centuries to unravel its mysterious message."

In the most widely quoted passage in all of Wiesel's writings, we read of the shattering of innocence:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times seven]

-xiii-

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