For Yom HaShoah, the “Day of Remembrance” for victims of the Holocaust, I read Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel’s Night, a fictionalized memoir of his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. One of the most powerful passages in Night was the story of a young boy executed in the concentration camp after being implicated in an act of sabotage.
The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows. . . .
The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks. “Long live liberty!” shouted the two men. But the boy was silent.
“Where is the merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.
At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over. . . .
Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish: the child, too light, was still breathing . . .
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows . . .”
There seems to be no limit to man’s inhumanity or God’s humanity. Seeing an innocent victim executed unjustly can be the end of faith or its beginning.