In a matter of hours last week I read the book Night by Elie Wiesel. Night is the powerful story of Elie’s experience in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. It is a personal and powerful account, and quite honestly he could have published one sentence, “I survived Auschwitz.” and I would call it amazing.
What I found most fascinating, and terrifying, about Night was the author’s honesty and understanding of the human psyche in this brutal situation. He did not embellish any of the horrific details of his experience, for such things need no embellishment. A single quote from the preface of the newest translation, is one of the most profound statements in his story: “I shall never forgive myself. Nor shall I ever forgive the world for having pushed me against the wall, for having turned me into a stranger, for having awakened in me the basest, most primitive instincts.”
Those of us who have never been forced to such extremes get to live with our illusions of strength. We get to go on believing that, when pushed, we would maintain our humanity, that we would die martyrs before we would become animals; but would we?
When I think of courage the first image that comes to mind is a fierce individual who stands up and defies his or her oppressors. This story helped me to remember that for some people, getting out of bed in the morning is an act of courage. In any situation a starving person sharing his crust of bread is one of the most selfless acts of heroism I can imagine.
Elie Wiesel is a man of great courage, not because of any specific act during this darkest time in his life, but because, when it was over, he was brave enough to tell the truth about himself. It made me ask myself, do I have that kind of courage?
What about you? How do you define courage?
*Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and his acceptance speech can be found in the back of the 2006 translation.
*Survivor by Tania Kauppila is another amazing tale of human strength that I read after meeting Ms. Kauppila when I was ten years old. Her story had a profound impact on my life.