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Elie Wiesel – The Holocaust and His Quest for God Presentation

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Updated: Jun 20th, 2022

Elie Wiesel was born on the 30th 0f September 1928 in what is presently known as the kingdom of Romania. His hard working father owned a shop while his faithful mother was a devoted believer in God. His mother gave him the faith that kept him through the trying moments he would later experience in life. At the peak of the second world war, the suffering of Jews had intensified. Adolf Hitler had increased his crackdown and the severity of torture in the concentration camps was beyond our wildest imagination (Wiesel 34-34).

The Wiesel family kept a low profile hoping that their peace would go undisturbed. Elie was picking up the family’s way of life as it is the case with most Jewish families. However the silence and peaceful nature was disturbed in 1940.His hometown known as Sighet was captured and all the Jews were consigned to houses that resembled the low class housing of African American slaves in North America. These houses had no running water and all other social amenities were missing.

Elie Wiesel - The Holocaust and His Quest for God Elie Wiesel - The Holocaust and His Quest for God

Elie’s Early life…Historical Context

Hitler gave orders that the Hungarian authorities give information regarding all the Jews who were in Sighet and its environs. The Hungarian authorities got scared of Hitler’s ruthlessness that had gained notoriety for pitiless torture and unannounced ambushes. They therefore allowed the Germany army to come and pick all the Jews who were in Sighet.

Elie and his family were taken to camp Auschwitz together with other Jewish families. The young boy was separated from his mother and siblings. He was taken to a different center within the camp with his aging father. The conditions in the camp were devastating. The fact that he was able to survive is testimony of the strong will he had to live.

Millions of Jews died in the camps that Hitler and his forces used to punish Jews, Africans and other people who he considered enemies of the Germany.

Elie’s Early life…Historical Context

Early Tragedies in his life

Elie lost his mother to the Holocaust. His sister also died at this time. It is made more painful by the fact that he never saw his family members dead or dying. He just believes that they died in the concentration camps. The r extremely poor living conditions in the camps made most prisoners contract certain diseases such as dysentery .His father became a victim of these diseases at around 1944.

A thorough beating of his aged and sick father by a Nazi officer led to his father’s death and the subsequent cremation in 1945.This was just a few months before the camp was captured and freed by the third army in the same year. Beside losing his family members, Elie lost many friends who had been brought together with him from Sighet during the sweep by the Nazi. He also witnessed the deaths of millions of other Jews who were in the same camp with him.

Apart from the poor living conditions, other traumatizing incidents happened in the camps. They included the beating of the inmates as exemplified by Elie’s father, the denial of food and the absence of sufficient space. There were other forms of torture such as shootings, sexual abuse and death through being forced into gas chambers. Sexual abuse and especially rape was rampant in the quarters that were used by women.

Halter’s army would come and pick the women of their liking any time they wanted, rape them freely and shoot them thereafter. The women were shaved all bodily hair including pubic hair as a means of humiliating them. This was sometimes done in the presence of family members; a scenario that left deep psychological wounds on the victims. It is on record that Hitler authorized the utilization of many prisoners as guinea pigs for testing the effectiveness of some means of torture.

Early Tragedies in his life Early Tragedies in his life

Psychological Experience during the camp days

Elie underwent tough times mentally during his time in the concentration camp. Sources of this mental trauma include the beating and subsequent death of his father, the deaths of his mother and sister, the abuse he received as well as the abuse to his fellow prisoners.

The lose of the sense of time since the cells in the camp were sealed. It was hard to know whether it was day or night unless the prisoners were doing hard labor outdoors. The starvation made it difficult to have any reasonable mentally stimulating activities. But it is possible that it also served as an unfortunate avenue for deep reflection on the meaning of life.

Psychological Experience during the camp days

Faith in the Camp

Elie as well as the younger men and women in the camps boiled with anger and were ready to do anything to either get their freedom or hasten their death. Their thinking was that it was better to revolt rather than just walk to their death without raising a finger. This was a sign of weakness according to the younger prisoners. The older men in the camps however had a different view. Their wisdom was that faith must be preserved even when death is imminent.

Elie and his fellow youngsters listened to this reasoning and toned down their urge for a revolt. The element of faith in emancipation was therefore maintained in the concentration camps even with the mass executions that Hitler’s army were carrying out with each passing day. But this faith would not go on for long. It turned to anger against God who appeared cruel.

Faith in the Camp

Freedom and Reflection

After the freeing of the camp, Elie had time to reorganize his life. He took a long time to come to terms with what had happened to him and his people. He was not at home with the concept of an all loving God who cared for His people and supplied to them according to His riches in heaven. To him, all that was going on was total neglect and the consequent suffering. He would not find answers as to why this kind of suffering had to be borne. He was faced with the possibility of losing faith not only in God but also in humanity. The reason for losing faith in humanity is the silence that was witnessed while Adolf Hitler was butchering millions of people in concentration camps (Fine 95).

As much as he questioned the idea of God, he never denied the fact that God existed. The staunch belief in the existence of God led him to ask questions; mostly of which were addressed to God. He wanted to know why God had let all the bad happenings to befall the Jews as well as other people who were undergoing pain and suffering in the hands of evil dictators and enslavers (Berenbaum 12-13). This makes sense given that had he denied that God does not exist, then the questions that he addressed to God would have been not only inappropriate but also useless. The biggest problem he had was understanding how God whose image he had viewed as loving, protecting and powerful, allow Hitler to subject people who had not wronged him to such inhuman suffering. Elie was not able to understand God’s purpose for the horrendous experience.He therefore kept on questioning it.

Freedom and Reflection Freedom and Reflection

Picking up the pieces…Personal Development

Elie undertook training in news reporting and worked as a journalist for a while (Wiesel 54). He later moved to the US where expiry of his Visa made the authorities grant him citizenship as a way of resolving his Visa issues. He worked hard in enhancing his academic credentials and sharpened his teaching skills. He is considered a highly talented teacher in the humanities with a high retentive ability. He has a sharp memory that makes him present detailed historical information without referring to a written source. He picked up writing as a side career, a venture that took a long time to gain momentum.

The drive to become a writer is believed to be his intention to share his experience as a holocaust survivor. He also wanted to share with the public his questions about God and His nature with the rest of mankind. Elie has more than fifty books to his name. They all portray a man with a deep sense of wisdom and experience on major issues about life. The emotional nature of the story he tells in his Holocaust themed books is inescapable. The details are picturesque and the revelation touching. The fact that all that he says in his books is mainly factual, especially the holocaust themed books makes his work credible and appealing.

Elie has done works of fiction too. But they are never divorced from his emotions and sense of activism. A unique element that is in not only his books but also his post holocaust days is a deep skepticism in God. As mentioned elsewhere in this PowerPoint, Elie had reached the conclusion that God was cruel and therefore had allowed man to take after Him in behavior. Thus the cruelty of Hitler and the Nazi as well as the racists of North America who enslaved African Americans, the Turks who killed Armenians and other bigots were a representation of the God who had left him and his people to suffer in the concentration camps.

Picking up the pieces…Personal Development Picking up the pieces…Personal Development

Faith after the Holocaust

The concentration camp experience had a lasting impact in his life. The mentorship he had received by some elderly Jews in the camp reinforced his skepticism in God. He developed the theme of God being cruel in his free life after the holocaust and entered into a bitter conversation with God. He wrote his ideas about God in his books where he expressed dismay over God’s failed response during the holocaust.

He saw no reason for his suffering. He saw not reason for the suffering of any person anywhere. He therefore decided to become a champion for the oppressed all over the world. His opinions were eloquently expressed in his books. Family and a sense of direction in his life were not a reason for a restoration of faith. He was still troubled by events around the world especially the Middle East crisis that brought new issues to the lives of Jews who had established their nation in 1948.

Faith after the Holocaust

Return of Faith In God and the Nobel Prize

Elie keenly observed the events in the middle east and saw what he considered the hand of God. The victory of the Jewish state over its enemies who were made up of six countries was miraculous. He felt like indeed there was always a plan in God’s actions. This faith was however not absolute. He got more involved in activities meant to galvanize and empower Jews around the world. He also championed for the rights of oppressed groups such as the African Americans in North America. His books present a close relationship between the experience in the concentration camps and the slavery experienced by African Americans in the United States. The books he wrote were the most potent weapon for his ideas. The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized his input towards peace and the freedom of man and awarded him the Nobel Prize in 1986.

Return of Faith In God and the Nobel Prize

Pillars of Faith-Ellie’s life

Faith is not abstract. Events in life shape faith. The human spirit sometimes breaks and faith is lost. This is however not uniform. Some individuals can practice endless acts of faith till death. The Bible is full of examples of men and women who did not give up even when the odds were enormously against them. Providence is responsible for the maintenance of faith in times of trial. Elie’s faith experienced a major shake-up and it is not clear the role Providence played in this process. The fact that the experience that he went through led to a loss of faith makes it hard for us to understand the purpose of Providence. But why did God let Job go through a difficult time?

Pillars of Faith-Ellie’s life

The Impact of Achievement in Elie’s Life

The success Elie achieved in writing and family affected his life in a number of ways. His adverse view of God and faith began to change. He started regaining his faith in God and recognizing Godly patterns in happenings around him. He became active in his advocacy for justice to all distressed people. This way of life has continued for him till today. He has a foundation that champions what he believes in. He is also a member of a number of foundations that advocate for what he believes in.

The Impact of Achievement in Elie’s Life

The Present Elie

He still speaks against racism and other forms of hatred. He has been attacked by people who deny the holocaust but he maintains a gracious demeanor even when under attack. He has received numerous awards, degrees and honors for his contribution towards freedom. But most importantly,he still has unanswered questions about God.

The Present Elie

Why Question God?

Elie’s concerns have not fully gotten meaning. These concerns include the absence of peace for his people as shown by the middle east crisis between the Palestinians and the Israelites as well as the Jewish-Arab hatred that draws in countries such as Iran. Other people all over the world are suffering just like he witnessed great suffering during the holocaust. He thinks that an all loving God should be in a position to prevent these things from happening.

Why Question God?

Suffering: Why does it happen?

It is true that nothing in life happens without a reason. Elie’s life is eventful. It has given him a unique position that has made him an iconic figure that has a powerful message against hatred (Brown 11). This is something that he would not have been had he not gone through the experience. It is also a lesson for the rest of mankind in that through his experience, the world knows what it must do to prevent similar horrors from occurring again. But questions still linger because similar happenings are still being witnessed in other parts of the world.

Suffering: Why does it happen?

Conclusion on Elie’s Holocaust Experience and his quest for God

From the time of his birth to the present moment, Elie has been on a search for the meaning of life. He has also been on a quest to understand God. The questioning of God’s nature was triggered by his holocaust experience and enhanced by similar suffering among both his people as well as the rest of the world. Personal achievement and a semblance of order in his life nearly restored his faith in God. But is it not entirely back. His questions are still unanswered and his faith is not firm.

If the Biblical stories are anything to go by, suffering is one of the ways to affirm faith in God. Elie definitely knows this. He however questions certain levels of suffering that are immense. For the rest of the world, this Holocaust survivor comes out as a tenacious person who was guarded by God in trying times with the aim of having the chance of witnessing to the world of how God can save someone. This saving power may not be readily clear to Elie who considers the Holocaust an experience that was too much to bear. This is definitely true. For believers, Elie’s questioning of God’s love is a thought to ponder.

Conclusion on Elie’s Holocaust Experience and his quest for God Conclusion on Elie’s Holocaust Experience and his quest for God

Works cited

Berenbaum, Michael: The Vision of the Void. Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1979. Print.

Brown, Robert. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to all Humanity. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983. Print.

Fine, Ellen. Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel. New York: State University of New York Press, 1982. Print.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York:Bantam Books. 1982. Print.

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