Posted on May 8, 2016 at 10:37 am
BY CAROLYN YEAGER
The controversy about the origins of “Night” is given more fuel by the recent announcement of Dr. Joel Rappel that he found a 150-page, handwritten document in Hebrew in the unsorted mass of Elie Wiesel’s personal papers.
I wrote about Yoel Rappel’s relationship with Elie Wiesel two years ago. Wiesel selected this Israeli journalist, editor and media expert he has known for decades to have control over how his writings and life story will be presented to the public – meaning what will be presented and what withheld. While Boston University is going to house the Wiesel Archive, it is not in control of it. Wiesel brought Dr. Rappel to Boston, put him on the payroll as “visiting scholar”, then put him in in charge of the Wiesel archive project.
I will go into some detail about this “newly discovered document” but first I want to list the six (oh, that number always comes up, doesn’t it?) versions of Night. They are:
1) 1954 – The original Yiddish manuscript, 862 typed pages, (No one has ever seen this, but more on that later)
2) 1955 – The edited and published Yiddish Un di velt hot geshvign – 245 book pages in Hebrew characters, not our alphabet
3) 1958 – La Nuit, original French – about 120 pages
4) 1960 – Night in English, Stella Rodway translation from French – 107 pages
5) 2006 – Night in English, Marion Wiesel new translation with numerous changes – 112 pages
6) late 1950’s, discovered in 2016 – Night in Hebrew, handwritten by Elie Wiesel – 150 pages (unfinished? – no one has seen this one either)
Which one have you read? They are all different, except for numbers 3 and 4 which are identical in content; thus it’s actually more accurate to say there are five versions, but I’m sticking with six. This latest discovery (#6) seems closest to number two in content, and, in fact, the content is not new if you are familiar with the non-fictional books Wiesel has published over the years, in which all these ideas have been expressed. The Haaretz report written by Ofer Aderet contains the following quotes from the “Hebrew Night”, probably given to him by Rappel. These are passages you won’t find in your conventional Night (#3,4 and 5).
“We believed in miracles and in God! And not in fate … and we [fared] very badly not believing in fate. If we had, we could have prevented many catastrophes. There is no longer a god in the heavens; he whispered with every step we put on the ground. There is no longer God in heaven, and there is no longer man on the earth below. The universe is divided in two: angels of death and the dead.”
“I stopped praying and didn’t speak about God. I was angry at him. I told myself, ‘He does not deserve us praying to him.’ And, really, does he hear prayers? … Why sanctify him? For what? For the suffering he rains on our heads? For Auschwitz and Birkenau? … This time we will not stand as the accused in court before the divine judge. This time we are the judges and he the accused. We are ready. There are a huge number of documents in our indictment file. They are living documents that will shake the foundations of justice.”
“Eternal optimists … it would not be an exaggeration on my part if I were to say that they greatly helped the genocidal nation [Germany -cy] to prepare the psychological background for the disaster. In fact, the professional optimists [among the Jews -cy] meant to make the present easier, but in doing so they buried the future. It is almost certain that if we had known only a little of the truth – dozens of Jews or more would have successfully fled. We would have broken the sword of fate. We would have burned the murderers’ altar. We would have fled and hidden in the mountains with farmers.”
This is so disingenuous because Wiesel writes on many occasions that warnings were received but not believed, even by his own father (who was an optimist) because the Jews didn’t want to take action that would discomfort themselves. His own family, he has written, refused help from Christians who wanted to hide them. They did know about the deportations, but they hoped it would pass them by or the Russians would get there first.
“We didn’t know a thing [in Europe], while they knew in the Land of Israel, and they knew in London, and they knew in New York. The world was silent and the Jewish world was silent. Why silent? Why did it not find it vital to inform us of what was going on in Germany? Why did they not warn us? Why? I also accuse the Jewish world and its leaders for not warning us, at least about the danger awaiting us in ambush so that we’d seek rescue routes.”
This paragraph is especially full of lies, and the biggest lie of all is that there was an extermination waiting for Jews. It was not true, no one believed that or feared that, they knew everything anyone else knew. They didn’t know about “gas chambers” because there weren’t any. Wiesel is just looking for someone to blame after the fact. The same is true of the following paragraphs, although his seething hatred can’t be disguised any longer:
“All the residents stood at the entrances of their homes, with faces filled with happiness at the misfortune they saw in their friends of yesterday walking and disappearing into the horizon – not for a day or two, but forever. Here I learned the true face of the Hungarian. It is the brutal face of an animal. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I were to say the Hungarians were more violent toward us than the Germans themselves. The Germans tended to shoot Jews.” [They never shot him or any of his friends or family, did they? -cy]
“At the end of the war, I refused to return to my hometown because I didn’t want to see any more the faces they revealed behind their disguises on that day of expulsion. However, from one perspective, I am sorry I didn’t return home, at least for a few days, in order to take revenge – to avenge the experts of hypocrisy, the inhabitants of my town. Then it would have been possible to take revenge!”
One last passage included in the Haaretz report is one that is not new; it has received a lot of attention in recent years, even by Wiesel himself. However, the wording here is not the same as in the Yiddish text; Wiesel wrote it differently each time, trying to better express it so his orthodox Jews don’t come off looking bad. Of the trip by rail to Auschwitz, Rappel says, Wiesel wrote in detail in the archived text:
“Under the cover of night, there were some young boys and girls who had sexual intercourse. The initial impact of the disaster was sexual. The tension of the final days sparked the desires that now sought release. And the heat also added its own touch, so that the sexual scenes did not provoke protest in the carriage. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
This is a different Wiesel than the author of La Nuit, which was more the product of Francois Mauriac and the publisher Jerome Lindon. La Nuit was written for the goyim, the Christian West, but it doesn’t say everything Wiesel had originally said to his fellow Jews. Later, he put much of it in other books, essays and interviews, and now it’s coming to us in this “new, expanded version of Night.” Why now? Well, Wiesel will be 88-years old on September 30th and is apparently not in the best of health, so people like Dr. Rappel are getting his legacy in order.
Night is a flexible tale that Wiesel adds to and subtracts from at will
Even Rappel is left to speculate as to why Wiesel decided not to publish this work in Hebrew for Israeli readers, but instead shelved it and agreed to a translation by Haim Gouri of the French La Nuit into Hebrew. Rappel says. “I wondered if someone wanted to make it disappear and get rid of it.”
“This is the version of ‘Night’ that Wiesel wanted the Israeli reader to see. He didn’t write it for anyone else. Therefore, it was so important. Wiesel knew that many Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz and Buchenwald, as well as many Jews living in Israel, would read this version, and so he put more emphasis on the Jewish aspect.”
If that’s true, why did Wiesel store it away, deep in his mass of papers? “He knew that, someday, someone would find this manuscript and leave it for the following generations,” believes Rappel.
This last sentence gives away the nonsensical nature of this whole “discovery” of a lost manuscript. If Wiesel wanted survivors to read it, he wouldn’t at the same time hide it from them, allowing only future generations to read it. Seems to me he decided not to compete with his already published version, maybe at the request of his French publisher. At the time he was supposedly writing it – the late 50’s – the English language Night had not yet been published. But Wiesel is perhaps not satisfied with what is left of his “epic” in La Nuit and begins preparing a Hebrew version that reinstates some of his original. What is described here by Rappel as a “hugely different” version of Night is very similar, in fact, to the 245-page Yiddish Un di velt hot geshvign (And the world remained silent) which Wiesel says he wrote in April 1954 on a ship heading for Brazil. [All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (New York, 1995), pp. 239-40] It appears he was mining that book – returning to what he originally wrote and was published by Mark Turkov as part of the 176-volume Polish Jewry Memoirs Series [Dos poylishe yidntum].
I have always suspected that Wiesel knew about Turkov’s publishing operation in advance of his trip to Brazil since he had close relatives in Buenos Aires who would have informed him about it. He could have used the trip to Brazil to take his manuscript to Turkov in Argentina. The scenario could go like this: Wiesel had been working on his grand “testimony” for several years already and had completed it. On the boat to Brazil, he worked on finishing touches. That was in April 1954. One year later, in May 1955, he meets Francois Mauriac, who urges him to write about his concentration camp experience. Without telling Mauriac he has already done so, he keeps up his friendship with the famous Catholic writer and when the published Un di velt hot geshvign arrives in December 1955, he translates it into French and shows that to Mauriac. Or … another possibility. Did Wiesel not give his “only copy” to Turkov because all along he had a copy at home in Paris? This makes more sense because it is impossible to credit any sane person giving their only copy of a precious manuscript to a stranger in a foreign land, even if he were a publisher. This question has now been answered for me, since it’s come to my attention that in a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984), Wiesel said he still had the original manuscript:
Have you destroyed the original nine hundred pages of Night?
No, I have them. Others I destroy; Night is not a novel, it’s an autobiography. It’s a memoir. It’s testimony. Therefore I believe it should be kept and one day I may publish it because I have no right not to. It’s not mine. [“it” refers to the ‘original 900 pages’ he believes should be kept -cy]
Contradicting this in his 1995 memoir, he wrote:
In December  I received from Buenos Aires the first copy of my Yiddish testimony “And the World Stayed Silent,” which I had finished on the boat to Brazil. The singer Yehudit Moretzka and her editor friend Mark Turkov had kept their word—except that they never did send back the manuscript. Israel Adler invited me to celebrate the event with a café-crème at the corner bistro. [ All Rivers Run to the Sea, p. 277]
Of course, if Wiesel had one at home, they wouldn’t need to send it back to him. Except … on page 241 he had also written: “It was my only copy, but Turkov assured me it would be safe with him.” So which is right? Rappel quotes from Wiesel’s memoir several times, thus I believe he would think it necessary to go with the memoir over the interview. However, it’s a major contradiction and I wonder if he would be willing to attempt an answer to it.
So right now the burning question is: Will Dr. Joel Rappel find the original typewritten 862-page manuscript in Elie Wiesel’s 330 boxes of material, as he found the 150-page handwritten Hebrew Night? It should be there since Wiesel told Friedman he kept it. Or did he destroy it between 1978 and 1995 because he no longer believed it should be kept? Or is Rappel keeping it hidden for reasons of his own, perhaps because of the many contradictions that undermine the integrity of Wiesel’s memoir? The only thing we know for certain is that we’re dealing with dishonest people so we can’t expect we’ll ever really know. Most ‘holocaust survivors’ wait for all witnesses to die before they tell their story and Wiesel is no exception.
This is my first question, but there are others, such as: since Un di velt hot geshvign is a published book, those who know Yiddish can easily read it, why therefore does Rappel ignore it? I have included portions of it translated to French and English here at Elie Wiesel Cons The World. Naomi Siedman, a professor of Jewish studies, has written a well-known article quoting from it, as have others. Yet Rappel speaks of these passages as if they were previously unknown. Well, to the general public, they are.
The archived version of “Night” is hugely different to the published one. It contains entire sections that don’t appear in the finished book, as well as different versions of pieces that were included.
True enough, but is Rappel not familiar with the Yiddish book that Wiesel claims to have written or does he want to discourage attention to it?
Siedman also noted significant differences in the ways each book reveals Wiesel’s writing process: In the Yiddish memoir (#2), he starts to write immediately after liberation, while the French text (#3) says he started writing only after a 10-year vow of silence. I have discussed Siedman’s commentary here.
Night: Clearly a work of fiction
An article in the Jewish Journal from 2013 gives an interesting insight into Wiesel’s insistence that his book Night is in no way fiction.
‘Holocaust scholar’ Michael Berenbaum has known Wiesel well for 35 years. Berenbaum wrote his doctoral dissertation in the 1970s about Wiesel’s work and later worked with Wiesel on the council that created the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s. He declared that “Wiesel’s moral power base is directly related to the moral stature that has been accorded to the Holocaust.” (That is, without the public’s belief in the ‘Holocaust’, Wiesel is nothing.) Berenbaum volunteered to Jonah Lowenfeld:
“If you want to get Wiesel angry, all you have to do is call ‘Night’ a novel instead of a memoir.”
In that same article, Gary Weissman, an assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, said he finds Wiesel’s celebrity a distraction.
“I have found that Wiesel tends to be ‘celebrated’ rather than questioned in any probing way. Many are investing in treating — and experiencing! — Wiesel as a holy figure, rather than as a complex and real human being.”
How very true. And it’s guaranteed to get worse, what with his ever-advancing age. I don’t have a clue what could put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to the over-inflated reputation of this man, other than taking the media out of the hands of Jewish monopolies.