Monday, November 19, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 18 (Elie Wiesel)

Wiesel, Elie

I think I acquired when I was teaching high school in NYC. I am pretty sure I taught the book, though my recollection of dong so is vague at best.

I remember the first time I read it. A friend, W., had invited me to her mother's home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut when we were in college. We traveled by train and then had the house to ourselves for the weekend. I think her parent's were divorced and her mother was away and she was an only child.

Anyhow, she showed me around her neighborhood and at one point we walked down the road to a much more exclusive part of town, where she pointed out a large old New England home overlooking the Sound. That's Katherine Hepburn's house, she told me. That part of town wanted to secede so they could be excluded from paying local taxes. The secession failed. I asked if she had ever met the great actress. No, but I have seen her walking around town.

The two of us had a mutual friend, M., who was obsessed with Hepburn. I am not sure if the obsession began with the knowledge that my friend lived down the street from Hepburn or not. At some point she started talking about her all the time and then she started writing fan letters until one day she received a handwritten reply, signed, 'Kate.' I don't remember what it said but it just about broke her heart with happiness to have received it.

I saw this book lying on a table back at the house and asked my friend about it. She said it was her father's. I started reading it and didn't put it down until I had finished the whole thing a couple of hours later. It was probably one of the most haunting reading experiences of my life.

from Night

Two o’clock in the afternoon. The snow was still coming down thickly. 

The time was passing quickly now. Dusk had fallen. The day was disappearing in 
a monochrome of gray. 

The head of the block suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to clean out the 
block. He ordered four prisoners to wash the wooden floor. . . .An hour before leaving the 
camp! Why? For whom?

“For the liberating army,” he cried. “So that they’ll realize there were men living 
here and not pigs.” 

Were we men then? The block was cleaned from top to bottom, washed in every 

At six o’clock the bell rang. The death knell. The burial. The procession was 
about to begin its march. 

 “Form up! Quickly!” 

In a few minutes we were all in rows, by blocks. Night had fallen. Everything was 
in order, according to the prearranged plan. 

The searchlights came on. Hundreds of armed SS men rose up out of the darkness, 
accompanied by sheepdogs. The snow never ceased. 

The gates of the camp opened. It seemed that an even darker night was waiting for 
us on the other side. 

The first blocks began to march. We waited. We had to wait for the departure of 
the fifty-six blocks who came before us. It was very cold. In my pocket I had two pieces 
of bread. With how much pleasure could I have eaten them! But I was not allowed to. 

Not yet. 

Our turn was coming: Block 53 . . . Block 55. . .  

Block 57, forward march! 

It snowed relentlessly. 

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