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Chris Pineda

Mrs. Day

British Literature (p.4)

March 28th 2017

Writing to Never Forget

In May 1944, the life of Elie Wiesel changed forever. Wiesel, then only fifteen years old,

and his family were expelled from Sighet, Romania, and taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau

concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. The horrific events that followed are recounted in

his most famous memoir, Night, and in his shorter memoirs that recalled smaller scenes from the

days during and after his imprisonment in the concentration camps. In particular, his memoirs

The Watch and The Promise demonstrate how the Holocaust influenced his style and

purpose of writing, and in turn, pushed him to write so that the rest of the world may never forget

the horrors that took place behind the barbed wires of the concentration camps, where Wiesel

suffered long periods of maltreatment and abuse merely because of his culture and ethnicity. This

dehumanization serves as the primary foundation that shaped his life in dramatic ways. Not only

do his memoirs reveal how the Holocaust affected his life, but they also reveal the aftershock of

the events and the closure he eventually finds.

Before the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel wished to study the Talmud and the Kabbalah. Sadly,

such dreams were shattered due to his deportation to the concentration camps, where he

witnessed and experienced horrific mistreatment. In addition to the constant beatings and forced

labor, Wiesel felt tremendous guilt because he believed he was an additional burden to his own

father, who was with him throughout their imprisonment; he felt he was weighing his father

down and he no longer wanted to see his father hurt. All the suffering of his fellow inmates, the
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eventual death of his father, and the emotional pain he bore pushed him to cut all ties to his faith.

After being freed from the camps in 1945, Wiesel decided to never speak of his experience

because he could not believe how God, their Creator, allowed for such things to happen to

innocent people; he could find no logical explanation for why God did nothing to save his

People. He became severely depressed in learning that he lost his mother and younger sister to

the Holocaust. Of his immediate family, only he and his two older sisters survived. Years passed

before Wiesel finally decided to write of his Holocaust experience. After studying journalism in

France, Wiesel decided to start writing about his experience in the camps following the advice

and encouragement of his colleague, Franois Mauriac. In 1956, Wiesel published in Yiddish the

memoir And the World Would Remain Silent, which was shortened and published in French as La

Nuit, and in English as Night in 1960. From this point onward, Wiesel wrote many more works

and made himself a renowned writer and world activist.

Wiesels writings all demonstrate the loss of his peoples and his own identity. In The

Watch, Wiesel reflects on his disrupted development from childhood to adulthood due to the

events of the Holocaust. Taking place 20 years after Wiesel was deported to the Auschwitz-

Birkenau concentration camp, The Watch depicts Wiesels late homecoming to his childhood

town, Sighet. Hungary had persecuted and mistreated its Jewish population, which forced the

Jews to bury their valuables within their homes and surroundings for fear of having them stolen.

Even after all these years, Wiesel is seized by an irrational, irresistible desire to see if the gold

watch he buried in his garden is still there, and if the watch, like himself, def[ied] all laws of

probability and survived the Holocaust by accident (Wiesel 2). Discovering the watch where he

left it years ago, Wiesel flees from the house with his treasure. However, he immediately returns
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to rebury his old watch. So much had changed in Sighet, and he believed that his watch belonged

in the backyard of his childhood home.

This gold watch meant so much to him because it was given to him for his bar mitzvah.

According to Jewish tradition, the watch served to remind each boy that from his bar mitzvah

onward he would be responsible for his acts before the Torah and its timeless laws. Because it

was the first and last gift he received from his parents, Wiesel does not hesitate to trespass into

his former home to recover his buried watch. He is able to locate the burial site by memory and

dig for his watch with his bare hands in order to avoid waking the tenants of his old home.

Wiesel did not feel at peace with his past, and he sought closure by revisiting the burial place of

his beloved watch to discover if it had, like himself, miraculously survived the Holocaust. He

hoped beyond all reason that it would bring him back some of his past and innocence. When he

finally catches a glimpse of the old gold watch, Wiesel cannot stand the pain he feels. He

questions how such an old object could possibly have been his gift, his pride, and his past. He

could not even recognize the watch due to the rust and worms that covered it. Wiesel expresses a

disgust that one feels for love betrayed or a body debased, because Wiesel sees himself in the

watch (Wiesel 4). He pities the watch because he perceives it as a survivor of the holocaust that

had endured humiliating sores and obsolete memories of its own, just like he had. His own guilt

causes him to caress the dirty watch and kiss it; he also feels an unusual kind of gratitude and

compassion. He had lost all the men in his life whom he believed to be immortal. His teachers,

friends, and guides all vanished into the fiery clouds, abandoning him and leaving the lifeless

watch to be a survivor for him (Wiesel 4). It is as though this watch had survived for the purpose

of welcoming him back on his return to Sighet and providing him an epilogue to his childhood.

The watch also served a sympathetic ear for him to confide in and a soul to provide comfort to.
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This is why Wiesel felt the need to kiss the watch and to take it to a jeweler so that it can be

restored to its former luster. However, in the end, he buries his treasure into the cold ground once

again. Wiesel knows it is futile to try and restore the watch, because he knows that the watch,

like himself, could never be fully restored. In his former childhood is where Wiesel believes the

watch truly belongs. He also imagines that a child would someday find the watch buried in the

garden and discover that there had once been a time when Jews and their children were all

robbed of their future by a generation full of racial hatred. A symbol of himself and time when

Jews once inhabited Sighet, the watch belonged in the soil to serve as a reminder of the

Holocaust for all future generations of people.

Not only do Wiesels writings reflect the loss of humanity within himself, but they also

provide a glimpse of life behind the barbed wires of the concentration camps. In The Promise,

Wiesel recounts how he and his fellow inmates lost a beloved leader, and how that loss

affected the humanity of those affiliated with him. Wiesel knows nothing of this man; he did not

know his name, age, nor his past. He can only recall his eyes and face, alongside his most

memorable actions. This friend was viewed by all fellow prisoners as one of the Righteous and

they called him the Prophet. The Prophet worked like everyone else and suffered hunger, cold,

and brutality of the guards; even still he was known to always speak of the future while his peers

listened in silence. This prophet gains the respect of his fellow prisoners through his reassuring

and comforting presence; no one heard him complain and his positivity and cheerfulness amazed

those around him. His faith and strength came from an unknown source, as did his knowledge of

many countries and languages. He was loved by all because he responded to every appeal for

help. One night, the Prophet tries to recover the low morale of his peers by begging for his

friends to not lose hope and to remember that there will be a day when everything will be
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told (Wiesel 70). His listeners do not believe and are convinced that the Germans had ended

their future and that the German prophecy had beaten the Prophets prophecy, but he reminds

them, you relegate him to the heavens, but he is here among us he has come here to be with

the victims, and that he is called The Prophet, not because they meant to affectionately

provoke and tease him, but because that was exactly who he was (Wiesel 72).

Wiesel believes he and others in the concentration camp listened to the Prophet because

hope for a future was what they really needed and wanted. All gaunt, and emaciated, the

Prophets comrades conclude that if the Prophet, with his ravaged body, could endure so much,

then they could as well (Wiesel 67). The Prophet set his face against evil [and] clung to his

humanity in a world where humanity was denied (Wiesel 68). Because the Germans had robbed

them of their dreams and opportunities, the Jews in the camp developed a void in the space their

faith once belonged. The Prophet is able to fill this void in his peers through his generous and

warm presence and encouragement. Some time after the Prophets plea, the winter selection

takes place, and the camp doctor pronounces him unfit for work; in other words, he would be

sent to his death. The whole camp is shocked at this announcement, and immediately put

together an emergency committee to brainstorm a way to rescue the Prophet. With over 100

people involved, there had never been so much done to save just one Jew. This effort to save him

demonstrates how much his peers actually needed him; [their] own survival depended upon his

(Wiesel 70). This threatening situation brought the Jews of the camp together to develop a more

apparent, close-knit community that worked together to try to save one of their own. In their

efforts, Wiesel realizes that they were able to rise above circumstances if it meant they could

save a person they loved (Wiesel 70).


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The Prophet smiles up until the last minute, and tells his friends to not weep because he

would not abandon them. And as he had promised, Wiesel later finds that [the Prophets]

revelation was kept and those who were with him survived (Wiesel 72). Years after the events

of The Promise occurred, Wiesel admits to think of the Prophet when hears the Hassidic

chant Ani Maamin, which proclaims the faith of the Jew and the coming of the Messiah (Wiesel

71). Although Wiesel lost his faith due to the Holocaust, he hung onto some faith because of the

Prophet. Like religion had done for Wiesel, the Prophet gives him the hope and guidance he

needed when all that he had was usurped from him. Although the Prophet died, this short memoir

is optimistic because the fallen hero left his mark: leaving hope with the imprisoned to continue

bearing the horrors of the Holocaust and live to tell future generations their story. These very

survivors, Wiesel fervently believes, still carry the Prophets promise and it is because of that

promise that they were able to continue living.

Writers from all walks of life capture the events from their lives into their works and,

with their talent and insight, translate their meaningful messages to their readers. The horrors

Wiesel faced during his adolescence must never be forgotten, and Wiesel takes it upon himself to

write about his experiences so that the world will never forget what happened to him and his

people during the Holocaust. The suffering and sorrow he experienced, and his desire that it is

never forgotten, made it possible for him to effectively and vividly compose his memoirs, The

Watch, and The Promise. Thanks to these memoirs, the Prophets promise will never be

unheard of and Wiesels hometown will forever be remembered as the face of the watch

(Wiesel 5). The suffering he experienced in the concentration camps caused Wiesel not only to

produce, but also to find the passion and purpose to advocate for human rights and equality

throughout his career as a writer and world activist. And so, Wiesels notion behind
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remembering the dead, which resides in all his works, is best understood in Night when he

said: To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to

killing them a second time.


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Works Cited

Wiesel, Eliezer. The Watch. PDF file: https://www.goucher.edu/Documents/Library/Goucher

%20The%20Watch.pdf

Wiesel, Eliezer. "The Promise." Legends of Our Time. New York: Schocken, 2004. 65-72. Print.

Elie Wiesel. People, Biography, http://www.biography.com/people/elie-wiesel-

9530714#synopsis

Elie Wiesel - Biographical. Nobel Media AB, Nobel Prize and Laureates,

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1986/wiesel-bio.html

The Birthplace of a Legend. Jewish World, Elie Wiesel Foundation,

http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org/CM_Images/UploadedImages/Jewish%20World.pdf
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