Have you ever sat outside, alone, during the night? Don’t you feel the shivers travel throughout your body, raising every strand of hair on your body?
Well with me, as I read the book Night by Elie Wiesel, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was sitting alone in the middle of the dark. The thought of the prisoners and the well made descriptions, it just made me feel as if I was watching a horrifically real documentary. In 3-D. There were a couple of sections that impacted me the most.
A crowd of workmen and curious passersby had formed along the train…pieces of bread were falling into the wagon from all sides. And the spectators observed these emaciated creatures ready to kill for a crust of bed.
“Meir, my little Meir! Don’t you recognize me…You’re killing your father…”
The old man mumbled something, groaned, and died. Nobody cared. His son searched him, took the crust of bread, and began devour it.
Two men had been watching him. They jumped him. Others joined in. When they withdrew, there were two dead bodies next to me, the father and the son.
The thought of the son killing his own father for a bite of bread so small it wouldn’t last, is just shocking. There are many people now a days, who hate their families so much they think of killing them, but how could they? Their parents are the ones that caused them to be born, and to kill your own parents are the same thing as killing yourself. The irony is that it actually happened to the son here in this book.
Suddenly a cry rose in the wagon, the cry of a wounded animal. Someone had just died.
Others, close to death, imitated his cry. And their cries seemed to come from beyond the grave. Soon everybody was crying. Groaning. Moaning. Cries of distress hurled into the wind and the snow.
The lament spread from wagon to wagon. It was contagious. And now hundreds of cries rose at once. The death rattle of an entire convoy with the end approaching. All boundaries had been crossed. Nobody had any strength left. And the night seemed endless.
This made me imagine all the dogs just howling. When there is going to be a huge earthquake, all the dogs start howling at the same time. This is their death cry. A warning. To the prisoners, their cry was a signal of their end, of their death. They couldn’t take it anymore. Just the thought of hundreds of people cry out loud, in distress, probably gave the worst chills through the Germans’ bones ever in history. These people were now not human. They were abused animals, shrunk to the bones.
We had a hundred or so in this wagon. Twelve of us left it.
Have you ever thought how it would feel to spend hours, days, months, in an enclosed wagon with open roof, suffocated, piled on top, stuck sandwiched between alive and dead people, using the dead as beds, pillows, and blankets? I haven’t, until now. I had thought that going to a grave is scary, as if you’re disturbing the peace of the environment, the thought of dead bodies mixed with dirt and insects giving me shivers and an uncomfortable feeling, but the thought of spending a good part of your life among the dead? Sickening. Scary. It made me queasy and nauseous.
…I heard the sound of a violin. A violin in a dark barrack where the dead were piled on top of the living? Who was this madman who played the violin here, at the edge of his own grave? Or was it hallucination?
It must have been Juliek.
He was playing a fragment of a Beethoven concerto. Never before had I heard such a beautiful sound. In such silence.
All I could hear was the violin, and it was as if Juliek’s soul had become his bow. He was playing his life. His whole being was gliding over the strings. His unfulfilled hopes. His charred past, his extinguished future. He played that which he would never play again.
When I awoke at daybreak, I saw Juliek facing me, hunched over, dead. Next to him lay his violin, trampled, an eerily poignant little corpse.
For a Jew to play German music was like rubbing dung on famous German musicians according to the Germans’ eyes. To the Jewish musicians like Juliek himself, to play German music was a lifelong dream. Germans were famous for their music. It was beautiful. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, and so much more were all German. Juliek knew he was going to die. And he wanted to die fulfilling his one dream- to be able to play Beethoven. And he did.
I can imagine the music, in the silent night, encircling the prisoners with the soft, smooth music, blanketing them with the pain Juliek went through, his life story told in one music. His limelight was then, the spotlight was the moon, the dead and almost dying was his audience. His concert was big. It engraved a memory not one of the survivors could forget.
I shall never forget Juliek. How could I forget this concert given before an audience of the dead and dying? Even today, when I hear that particular piece by Beethoven, my eyes close and out of the darkness emerges the pale and melancholy face of my Polish comrade bidding farewell to an audience of dying men.
To be able to survive this period of horror and trauma was a tattoo not erasable no matter how many times you try to scrub clean, no matter how many surgeries you try to get to suck off the ink from your body. It was a horrible scar. And I feel these people should be respected as much as the veterans of our country. They deserve more than what we give them now.