August 30-31, El Al flight 007, Israel - New York
Just last month Eliezer, "Eli," Wiesel, departed from this world. He was 87 years old but according the Nazi plans he should have been dead at 16. He beat the system and lived to tell the tale. His book "Night" describes his experiences and teach us a great many lessons that are still relevant, and sadly, still ignored, today.
Wiesel passed away on July 2, 2016 after a life devoted to helping humanity. May his memory be a blessing to us all. In his honor let us discuss some of his lessons in the coming blogs..
NIGHT has descended upon the world, Night has descended upon Europe, all values are reinterpreted as the nations of Europe descend into a deep and dark night. Who is sane and who is mad?
Note: I tell this as a short story, as if I were there. In a sense...I was.
The Jews of Hungary have been spared, until May 1944. And now they are on the train to Auschwitz.
The doors were nailed, there is no way back, there is no way out. The world is now a hermetically sealed cattle car...
There is a women among us, she has been separated from most of her family and she is deeply troubled.
We hear her moans, her sobs. "Later her screams became hysterical" (Page 42)
And then, on the third night, in this dark hell of a cattle car, while everyone was sleeping "a piercing cry broke the silence"
"Fire! I see a fire! I see a fire!!
The passengers were alarmed and began looking for the fire and thinking how to put it out. The woman was howling, and she was pointing through the window.
"Some pressed against the bars to see. There was nothing. Only the darkness of night" (43)
The passengers reach the conclusion that the woman has gone mad, she has lost her mind. Everyone goes back to sleep. A long deep sleep....
The woman now and again began her screaming, Fire! I see a Fire!
But the people learned to ignore the rantings of the mad woman. Poor thing, lost most of her family already...
She would not relent, "Jews, listen to me, she cried, I see a fire! I see flames, huge flames!"
The people came to believe she was possessed by some evil spirit. "We tried to reason with her"
They tried to calm her, to use logic but it did not succeed.
One man said, she is hallucinating because of the thirst, that is why she believes there is a fire.
It was all in her head.
The woman broke the silence of the night. "Look at the fire! Look at the flames! Flames everywhere..." (44)
Some young men bound and gagged her, to silence her, they could not take it anymore. Keep her quiet, make that madwoman shut up!
The night seemed endless...
And then the next day, she began again to shout, "The fire, over there!"
She was pointing to a specific place in the distance, but no one could see anything. She could feel the fire. Clearly she was mad.
Or was she?
Soon we pulled into a station, someone near the widow read the sign to us, it said "Auschwitz".
No of us had ever heard this name before.
For many, this was the final destination.
Many of us were optimistic, we were told there was work and fields and food. But not the madwoman, she was not calm. Soon her shouting started again..."Look at the fire! Look at the flames! over there!"
But of course there was nothing, just the rantings of a poor woman gone mad.
We were all optimistic.
The woman caused so much trouble with her constant screaming that the man in charge of our group called over one of the Germans and asked to have her taken away.
"Patience", the German responded, Soon enough she will be taken away, not to worry....
Soon enough again there was a terrible scream. "Jews, look! Look at the fire! Look at the flames!"
But this time it was no longer an illusion, this time we looked and this time we saw flames rising from a tall chimney into a black sky. (46)
Now the woman fell silent, she became mute, indifferent.
We stared at the flames in the darkness. The air was filled with the stench of burning human beings. The doors of the train opened and strange looking creatures, more skeleton than alive, dressed in striped jackets, entered and pulled us out.
In front of us were those flames and the smell of burning flesh. We had arrived.
Lessons: I believe the lessons are obvious...but...just in case.
Who is mad?
This is a true story. The woman, a Mrs. Schachter, in her mid 50s, "saw" the flames. At that moment she was given a prophetic vision. It was real to her but no one could see what she saw. Just as Abraham the Patriarch and his son Isaac "saw" the mountain ahead while the two servants did not, here too Mrs. Schachter saw the flames of the crematorium of Auschwitz long before there actual arrival.
The flames were real.
There are those who can see the future, and they are regarded as Mad, crazy, delusional. In time they will be proven correct, but the judgement upon the rest is that by the time they see the truth will be too late to take action. All of us saw the flames of Auschwitz but it was too late.
We stared at the flames in the darkness...and they began to beat us with sticks shouting...OUT, OUT, HURRY!
To my family who were in Auschwitz, to my family who went up in smoke through those chimneys, I vow to you that I will always see the flames and like the "Mad woman" I will continue to shout: Look! Look at the fire! Look at the flames!
..and suddenly there was a terrible scream...