, Research Paper
Many outsiders strive but fail to truly comprehend the haunting incident of World War II?s Holocaust. None but survivors and witnesses succeed to sense and live the timeless pain of the event which repossesses the core of human psyche. Elie Wiesel and Corrie Ten Boom are two of these survivors who, through their personal accounts, allow the reader to glimpse empathy within the soul and the heart.
Elie Wiesel (1928- ), a journalist and Professor of Humanities at Boston University, is an author of 21 books. The first of his collection, entitled Night, is a terrifying account of Wiesel?s boyhood experience as a WWII Jewish prisoner of Hitler?s dominant and secretive Nazi party. At age 16 he was taken from his home in Sighet, Romania and became one of millions of Jews sent to German concentration camps. At the Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Wiesel witnessed the death of his parents and sister. In 1945, the latter of the camps was overtaken by an American resistance group and the remaining prisoners freed, including the drastically changed man in Wiesel. The once innocent, God-fearing teenager had become a lonely, scarred, doubting individual.
Corrie Ten Boom (1892-1983), a religious author and inspirational evangelist, traveled and spread Christianity throughout sixty-one countries, even into her eighties. Her autobiography, The Hiding Place, is an account of her inner strength found through God in the midst of the physical and emotional turmoil of German concentration camps. During World War II, the Ten Boom family took action against the Nazi movement and began an underground hiding system, saving over 700 Jewish lives. (Contemporary Authors, 470) They were discovered and sent from their Haarlem, Holland home to Scheveningen, a Nazi prison. Ten Boom, in her 50?s, was placed on trial for leading the underground system and sent to a German work camp. There she witnessed her father and sister?s death as well as the birth of her inner strength and hope for the future. Upon release from Ravensbruck, Ten Boom began caring for victims of the war and Holocaust and used her powerful speaking ability to share the trials and triumphs of her life.
Together, these two powerful authors relive the horror and pain of the Holocaust to educate the unaware world. They teach of the past, warn of the future, and live for the day. Wiesel and Ten Boom voice their strong belief in God before the war and the ebb and flow of that belief in response to each newly faced affliction. These strong survivors pose as teachers and role models by revealing strengths, weaknesses and survival techniques. Wiesel and Ten Boom survive against the odds, but not without physical and emotional scars. The unsung hero and heroin pair experience tremendous suffering, but confront that affliction with distinct contrary responses. The theme and style of Wiesel and Ten Boom reveal individual personal beliefs and strength levels in reaction to their concentration camp experience during WWII?s Holocaust.
Theme is the window which Wiesel and Ten Boom open through words and thoughts to reveal the true purpose of their tales. Although both authors experience the grime of concentration camp and grief of family loss, their responses to this suffering are distinct. This distinctness is not unexpected, for as one?s strengths and beliefs are personal, as is the effect of events effecting those strengths and beliefs. Wiesel and Ten Boom state the purpose of their self-exposed stories clearly, and their purposes differ just as clearly.
Wiesel stresses the importance of applying lessons of the past to the present for the sake of the world?s future. He writes to create a feeling of such horror and catharsis within the reader to prevent the evil of the Holocaust or any type of unjust persecution to ever occur again. He opens the reader?s eyes with vividly horrible images of human suffering and creates no barrier in which to contain the honesty and corruption of the experience as a whole. Wiesel is determined to persuade victims, persecutors and bystanders alike of the need for a conscience fully aware of the true evil unleashed and innocence denatured by the inhumane persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.
The most important theme portrayed in Night is defined later by Wiesel himself:
?The executioner killed for nothing, the victim died for nothing…During the Middle Ages, the Jews, when they chose death, were convinced that by their sacrifice they were glorifying and sanctifying God?s name. At Auschwitz, the sacrifices were without point, without faith, without divine inspiration…? (Douglas)
Wiesel feels that the genocide of WWII came and went and proves no point to the world, gives neither strength nor hope to the individual, and is basically pointless. After the inhumane persecution, his God is not praised by a greater audience, Hitler and his Nazi party does not gain more power, Jews are not respected by others, and the world as a whole is not given reassurance of a better future. To Wiesel, the Holocaust represents nothing but evil, guilt, and the decay of human morality. (Popular World Fiction, II-35)
As does Wiesel, Ten Boom preaches of the importance of learning from past mistakes and not recycling a detrimental experience. However, the evangelist in Ten Boom preaches beyond historical remembrance into the depths of spiritual growth. She strongly believes that the world and its creatures are fated by God and that every experience witnessed by an individual is predestined with the purpose of teaching a life lesson. She survives with the hope and reassurance of God?s power, and lives to spread that belief.
The most important theme portrayed in The Hiding Place is that ?there is no pit so deep that He (God) is not deeper still.? (Ten Boom, 217) Ten Boom believes that God is forever on the lowest rung of the human ladder, below even the farthest fallen people, so that they can build a foundation on Him and His love. She expresses that the hand of God is always in reach to represent a concrete hope for Jews in a hopeless situation such as the Holocaust.
Ten Boom?s purpose is to learn and teach others to be joyful in times of great suffering. (Praise Outreach) This is a rare attitude of Holocaust victims, but throughout pain and sorrow Ten Boom presents clear reasons to possess joy. She believes that her own suffering is parallel to Jesus? persecution. ?I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus? arrest — how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at Him, flogged Him. Now such happenings had faces and voices.? (Ten Boom, 195) She is able to persevere and even die to help others and stand for what she believes in, as Jesus did. Ten Boom supposes that her experience at the German death camps was a test given by God to measure her spiritual strength. God never gives an unpassable test, and never gives one person anything more than he can handle. Ten Boom thinks of the Holocaust as a learning experience, not only for herself, but for the many Jewish victims in reach of her helping hands and words. She has the chance to teach other women of hope through the glory of God, and is joyful because this is her newfound destiny.
Although Ten Boom never defines herself as this, her destiny is to serve God as a ?Righteous among the Nations,? or a non-Jew who risks his life to save Jews during the Holocaust. (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, 1281) She serves him by risking her own life, and uses her religion to become ?a channel of God?s love in a world torn by fear.? (Ten Boom, biographical insert) Ten Boom stresses the importance of hope, and practices her preaching by giving hope to fellow prisoners through God and the Bible.
The themes of Night and The Hiding Place differ in the authors? responses to their personal strength against the pain of the Holocaust. Wiesel confronts the issue of the event?s lack of positive results, where Ten Boom focuses on the message of God?s strength through human suffering.
The style of the two novels overflow with facing tone and attitude and create a literary barrier between Wiesel and Ten Boom. Where Ten Boom finds a positive inkling of hope within a German death camp, Wiesel drowns out every crack of hopeful light with the darkness of a negative attitude. The authors? styles are distinct to their own morality.In Night, Wiesel?s style is sober and passionate as he describes each testimony with intense diction, vivid pictures and concrete intellect. He tears open his heart to pour upon the reader his true agony during ?the moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.? (Wiesel, 32) He defines his religious beliefs with a ?nakedly self-exposed honesty? (Alter, 526) and hides nothing. Wiesel?s writing is ?flooded with suffering but anchored in defiance.? (Sidel) The flood contains truth which penetrates dams of neglect and overflows into the hearts and minds of innocent and guilty alike. Wiesel?s defiance pierces through the flood of truth to create an anchor of challenge to all minds as well as his own.
His style remains passionate, but as persecution takes its toll Wiesel?s tone shifts
from confident to despairing, pessimistic and almost bitter. His tone can trace his loss of
faith in God and in himself. Wiesel sides with a man who honestly states:
?I?ve got more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He?s the only one who?s kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.? (Douglas)
Wiesel feels so moved by his fear of death and loneliness as well as his anger towards God?s indifference to suffering Jews that he trusts his enemy more than his allies. His pessimism prevails and leads to emotional and spiritual deterioration.
During the months of Wiesel?s imprisonment at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, his
positive attitude toward himself and his situation becomes lost among feelings of anger,
fear and hopelessness. At first, Wiesel believes that his ?optimism (is) unshakable?
(Douglas) and this persecution against the Jewish population treatment is merely a test of
strength given by God. He thinks his treatment and separation from his family are
somehow deserved, and feels religious guilt. However, as the innocent suffer, Wiesel
begins to doubt his belief and his God. He rises above traditional Judaism to challenge
God by questioning His ways and starting a personal revolt against this once trustworthy
?These men here, whom You have betrayed, whom You have allowed to be tortured, butchered, gassed, burned, what do they do? They pray before You! They praise Your name!…What does Your greatness mean…in the face of all this weakness?? (Wiesel, 64)
Wiesel questions God?s failure to intercede for the sake of His children, His failure to care about the destruction occurring. He fails to understand why God can or will not intensify the Jews? now meager strength with His endless power. Words of vengeance and passion fill Wiesel?s once humble, trusting prayers. After a while, Wiesel ceases to pray at all as ?the death of his innocence, his human self-respect and his God? (Alter, 526) crush all remaining hope of progression. Wiesel becomes ?dragged along by a blind destiny? as indifference takes over his mind and body leaving him with ?no more reason to struggle.? (Wiesel, 83) He was no longer afraid of physical death, for the murder of his spirit had already taken place. As Wiesel apathetically and reluctantly lives on, his pain lies in the discovery that ?neither love, filial pity, nor his tense Talmudic training can stand up against extremes of starvation and fear.? (Alvarez, 527) He fights himself, his God, and the beast of the Holocaust, and he is defeated.
In The Hiding Place, Ten Boom?s writing involves a deep yet innocent style. With each testimony, she explains her life with an awareness imbedded beyond worldly existence in order to voice a personal and heartfelt message of hope. Ten Boom?s honesty flows artfully through diction to reveal her true passion of God and the Bible. ?The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God.? (Ten Boom, 194) She uses this analogy of fire in the night to represent God?s word and love warming the hands and hearts of desperate prisoners trapped in the dark. Ten Boom voices her deep messages in a style laden with vitality and passion, possessing an urge to share a testimony.
The vitality of Ten Boom?s style is balanced by the motivated optimism of her tone. Through the suffering of the Holocaust?s victims, she remains focused of her purpose to share hope as a ?tramp for the Lord.? (Contemporary Authors, 470) She maintains a strong-willed writing style throughout her novel.
Ten Boom?s attitude during her imprisonment at Scheveningen and Ravensbruck is based on a rare quality: silent strength. This strength keeps her alive and fighting for her God despite numerous afflictions. She signifies that
?life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.? (Ten Boom, 195)
Although the physical conditions of the German death camps get increasingly more unbearable, Ten Boom is able to rise above the suffering and express joy because of the spiritual belief that God is her protector and He will inevitably conquer all evil. It is because of this mental strength that Ten Boom is one of the few celebrating through the suffering because she is ?not poor, but rich…(within) the care of He who was God even of Ravensbruck.? (Ten Boom, 192) As her attitude became stronger and she prayed for safety and miracles, they were given to her. Ten Boom is able to retain a forbidden object, her Bible, throughout her whole sentence. Even after she leaves Buchenwald, she learns that her release is a ?clerical error,? and one week after her release her age group is gassed. (Ten Boom, 241) These ?consequences? can not occur to one prisoner without the aid of some higher power.
After Ten Boom herself attains a positive attitude, she is able to help other, more destitute prisoners learn of the glory of God. With her sister Betsie and the forbidden Bible, she becomes ?the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope.? (Ten Boom, 194) As prisoners desperately hold out their hearts to anything worth believing in, Ten Boom strengthens the souls of those hearts with the word of God within her and gives many a new hope and life focus. Through God?s peace and love she is even able to somehow forgive the guards for their wrong doing. Ten Boom also realizes the parallel of her destiny and persecution to that of God, and reassures herself that ?this plan of her life was foreseen, that she should follow his pattern of victory in the face of defeat.? (Ten Boom, 150) She does just that, and changes many lives for the better in doing so.
Through their style, Wiesel?s despair and Ten Boom?s hope reveal the effect of differing beliefs and attitudes on a similar situation, and how persecution exposes the true strength of an individual.
Wiesel and Ten Boom pose as the two extreme results of a similar situation. With the torturous experience of WWII?s Holocaust behind them, the authors reveal their true fears and strengths in response to personal suffering through the theme and style of their writing. ?On the road to survival, everything goes, leaving only the most primitive terrors and desires.? (Alvarez, 527) Ten Boom proves to maintain a static attitude by rooting her strength from God and keeping in mind that ?it was not my wholeness, but Christ?s that make the difference.? (Ten Boom, 214) Wiesel represents the dynamic, lonely man swallowed by the evil of the Holocaust and left to live in a ?nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.? (Wiesel, 32)
Alter, Robert. ?Elie Wiesel: Between Hangman and Victim? (E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1962); excerpted and reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3, ed. Carolyn Riley (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1975), p. 526.
Alvarez, A. ?The Literature of the Holocaust? (Random House, 1968); excerpted and reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3, ed. Carolyn Riley (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1975), p. 527.
Appendix II. Popular World Fiction. Vol. 3. Washington, D.C.: Beacham Publishing, 1987. II-35.
?Christians Who Helped Us To Get Started? (Praise Outreach). May. 1996. http://www.wolsi.com/~kitb/influ.html. (5 Dec. 1996).
Contemporary Authors. Vol. 111, ed. Hal May. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1984. p. 470.
Douglas, Robert E., Jr. ?Elie Wiesel?s Relationship with God.? 3 Aug. 1995. http://www.stsci.edu/~rdouglas/publications/suff/suff.html.
Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Vol. 3, ed. Israel Gutman. New York: Macmillan, 1990. p. 1281.
Sidel, Scott. ?All Rivers Run to the Sea: A Review of the Memoirs of Elie Wiesel.? 1995. http://www.netrail.net/~sidel/reviews/wiesel.html. (5 Dec. 1996).
Ten Boom, Corrie. The Hiding Place. United States: Bantam Books, 1971.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. United States: Bantam Books, 1960.