Today is the 27th of Nissan in the Jewish calendar. Today is the day that has been set to remember the Nazi Holocaust. This day was chosen because it is the day the Warsaw ghetto uprising stated. This uprising is one of the main examples of Jewish armed rebellion against the Nazis. I had the chance to travel to Poland a few years ago and got the opportunity to become a witness of these atrocities, so I have become forever responsible for bearing witness. I have also met countless survivors who have made me promise to tell their stories, and I have read countless survivors who make me experience feelings I never even thought possible. One of these survivors is Elie Wiesel. His memoir Night is perhaps the most widespread testimony of the tragedies of the holocaust and one of my all-time favorite non-fiction works.
His novel Dawn however, is not a holocaust novel, at least not directly. Dawn is the story of 18-year-old survivor Elisha who is recruited by a terrorist movement in Palestine to fight the British regime actively, and achieve the creation of the Jewish state. “The Movement”, as it is referred to in the book, was created after the holocaust. Built upon the belief that armed rebellion and active retaliation, is the only way the Jewish people have a chance at survival. They believe that if they do not fight, they are giving their consent to be taken as sheep to the slaughter. In his short novel, Wiesel sets a difficult scenario for main character Elisha. He is to execute a man he does not know, and he must do it at dawn. This man is John Dawson, a British captain who is innocent, but kidnapped and sentenced in retaliation to the capturing and sentencing of David ben-Moshe, a young member of the “The Movement”.
The novel is set on a single night (that preceding the dawn of execution). However, I feel like this novel is a collection of events that led to Elisha being in the position he finds himself in. Elisha is confronting all the ghosts from his past, and is trying to justify to them (as well as to himself) what he is about to do. He is constantly encouraged with “this is war, don’t torture yourself” or “he is the enemy”, and he is trying to internalize this, but it becomes increasingly difficult for him to hate. He wants to hate John Dawson, that way he can justify being the one to end his life, but no matter how hard he tries, he does not hate John Dawson.
This is when I feel I must quote Wiesel, for he perfectly captures in just a few lines of the preface, what the whole book is supposed to trigger. He asks a series of questions, and I want to focus on two:
1) “Does murder call for murder, despair for revenge?”
2) “Can hate engender anything but hate?”
I have a history professor who, when talking about WW2, he always stresses his opinion about how he truly wishes that the US would have used the nuclear bomb on the Germans instead of the Japanese. He knows I am Jewish and deeply affected by the subject of the holocaust, so he asks about my opinion on his comment. I always reply the same way. Of course I believe Japan should not have had to ever see what occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but neither should Germany. This is where Wiesel’s questions come to play.
I believe that we must take this day to reflect and understand the main lessons that the holocaust taught us. The holocaust helps us understand the need for tolerance, and so does Wiesel as early as his preface. I do not believe in revenge, at least not traditional revenge. Think about what Hitler and the Nazis wanted: all Jews dead. Traditional revenge would be: murder them back, but what good would that bring? How about a new type of revenge in which we simply survive. If someone has evil intentions, I find no better revenge than preventing their utmost satisfaction and success. So here we are. I am revenge, but my revenge is living. My revenge is kindness and goodness. My revenge is tolerance. My revenge is remembering and speaking up freely for those who cannot defend themselves, and ultimately my revenge is choosing my revenge (I hope that makes sense).
So how about we choose to be kind and accepting, and to give a damn about others?
I find that to be an awesome revenge.
I of course, highly recommend Night and Dawn by Elie Wiesel, if you are looking for some philosophy of peace. After all he did get a Nobel Peace Prize.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I think we should take some wise lyrics of a Lana del Rey song that goes like: “Change is a powerful thing, people are powerful beings”. We must believe in our own power and never surrender to acts of evil. We have to constantly do what we can to help the world become a less bloody, hungry and selfish place. I hope you believe in your power to change and in your own ability to overcome human selfishness. I hope you always choose to stand up for those who cannot, and help those who cannot help themselves. And always remember the holocaust, so it does not happen again.
Stay kind and take care,
Love, Knowledge Empress