And the Sea Is Never Full: Memoirs, 1969-by Elie Wiesel
As this concluding volume of his moving and revealing memoirs begins, Elie Wiesel is forty years old, a writer of international repute. Determined to speak out more actively for both Holocaust survivors and the disenfranchised everywhere, he sets himself a challenge: "I will become militant. I will teach, share, bear witness. I will reveal and try to mitigate the… See more details below
As this concluding volume of his moving and revealing memoirs begins, Elie Wiesel is forty years old, a writer of international repute. Determined to speak out more actively for both Holocaust survivors and the disenfranchised everywhere, he sets himself a challenge: "I will become militant. I will teach, share, bear witness. I will reveal and try to mitigate the victims' solitude." He makes words his weapon, and in these pages we relive with him his unstinting battles. We see him meet with world leaders and travel to regions ruled by war, dictatorship, racism, and exclusion in order to engage the most pressing issues of the day. We see him in the Soviet Union defending persecuted Jews and dissidents; in South Africa battling apartheid and supporting Mandela's ascension; in Cambodia and in Bosnia, calling on the world to face the atrocities; in refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia as an emissary for President Clinton. He chastises Ronald Reagan for his visit to the German military cemetery at Bitburg. He supports Lech Walesa but challenges some of his views. He confronts Francois Mitterrand over the misrepresentation of his activities in Vichy France. He does battle with Holocaust deniers. He joins tens of thousands of young Austrians demonstrating against renascent fascism in their country. He receives the Nobel Peace Prize. Through it all, Wiesel remains deeply involved with his beloved Israel, its leaders and its people, and laments its internal conflicts. He recounts the behind-the-scenes events that led to the establishment of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. He shares the feelings evoked by his return to Auschwitz, by his recollections of Yitzhak Rabin, and by his memories of his own vanished family. This is the magnificent finale of a historic memoir.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
"Part of the delight of All Rivers lies in witnessing the gradual transformation of the brokenhearted, orphaned young boy into the spirited journalist who longs to embrace the world at large, and who, in time, does." Rebecca Goldstein, Newsday
"Immensely moving [and] unforgettable, [with] the searing intensity of his novels and autobiographical tales . . . Will make you cry, yet somehow leaves you renewed, with a cautious hope for humanity's future." Publishers Weekly
"This is Elie Wiesel at his best, a highly revealing self-portrait of the man behind the world-famed persona." Herman Wouk
"Remarkable . . . Wiesel writes with poetic beauty and heart-stopping eloquence." Susan Miron, Miami Herald
"A biblical-like epic of a great man who has turned genocidal tragedy into a life force for world peace. It should be required reading." Alan M. Dershowitz
"For all those who have never known Elie Wiesel, these memoirs are an introduction to the man, and for many who have met him, there will be discoveries and realizations." Raul Hilberg, Boston Globe
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Read an Excerpt
A chronicle has it that the celebrated Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady was locked up in a St. Petersburg prison after being denounced by a foe of the Hasidic movement as an agitator against the Czar.
One day the warden came to see him in his solitary cell, and this is what he said:
"I am told you are a rabbi, a Master. So explain to me a passage I fail to understand in the Bible. It says in the Book of Genesis that, after having bitten into the forbidden fruit, Adam fled, so that the Lord had to ask him: 'Ayekha, where are you?' Is it possible, even conceivable, that the Creator of the world did not know where Adam was hiding?"
Whereupon the rabbi smiled and answered: "The Lord, blessed-be-His-name, knew; it was Adam who didn't know."
And Rabbi Shneur Zalman went on: "Do you believe the Bible to be a sacred book?"
"And that it speaks to all mankind, of all times, therefore also to ours?"
"Yes, I believe that."
"In that case, I shall explain to you the real meaning of the question God asked of Adam. Ayekha signifies: Where do you stand in this world? What is your place in history? What have you done with your life, Adam? These are fundamental questions that every human being must confront sooner or later.
"For every one of us, the book of life goes back to Adam. It is he who embodies the mystery of the beginning. But it is to each of us that God speaks when He says Ayekha."
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. . . To write, to write about oneself, one's past, one's burden of memory, is somewhat like that: to keep alive this first question in the Bible.
As I reread my notebooks, I question their subject as he is propelled from page to page, event to event. At which crossroads is he now? What perils lie in store for him, what voices is he following? Where is he going: toward solitude or his need to escape from it?
Before me, always, is the photograph of the house in which I was born. The door that leads to the yard. The kitchen. I want to go inside, but I am afraid. I want to look at the house, if only from afar. With all that has happened to me, it is essential for me to remember that place.
In the first volume of my memoirs, I tried to describe the secret, almost reclusive life of a young Talmudist-turned-writer when he returned from the death camps. My peaceful childhood, my turbulent adolescence, the uncertainties of my formative years. Full stops and shaky beginnings. Wanderings, wrong turns, changes of direction. Years marked by messianic dreams and challenges, ecstasy and mourning, separations and reunions. A little girl with golden hair, a wise and loving mother. An ailing and defenseless father. Moshe the Madman, Kalman the Kabbalist. Shushani and his mysteries. Saul Lieberman. The Lubavitcher Rebbe. Sighet, Auschwitz, Paris, New York: each place a world unto itself. My journal ended on April 2, 1969, in Jerusalem when my life took another turn, this time toward hope. Toward Marion. I got married.
These days I dream a lot, more than ever before. It all comes back to me with unexpected clarity rendered sharp and painful by the fear of awakening. An immense garden is in bloom. It is spring. I look at the blue and red sky. A window opens and my grandfather appears. I hear his voice ordering the sun to set, for mankind is waiting. He knows how to make others obey, my grandfather. Night falls and suddenly the garden is transformed into a house of prayer. A huge, motionless crowd waits silently for services to begin.
I am afraid I have forgotten the first verse of the first prayer. I look for a familiar face. All the faces are veiled, lifeless. I am panic-stricken. I step backward, toward the exit, but a voice inside me tells me I mustn't. Mustn't what? I don't know. Perhaps what I mustn't do is wake up.
The days move slowly, the years take flight. I work on two or three projects at once. Writing becomes an obstacle course. Have I become more self-critical? I used to rewrite some texts three times; now I sometimes agonize over the same page for hours before tearing it up in a moment of clear-sighted rage.
These are feverish, convulsive years, woven from aborted at-tempts and exalted renewals. My life now unfolds under the dual sign of change on a practical level and loyalty on the level of memory. Inside me happiness and distress seem to spark a fire that is both somber and luminous. Could it be that I fear happiness?
Notwithstanding my doubts about language, and perhaps be-cause of them, I plunge deeper and deeper into the whirlwind of the words I try to capture and tame. I cling to the notion that in the beginning there was the word; and that the word is the story of man; and that man is the story of God. If praying is an act of faith in God, then writing is a token of trust in man.
I write more than ever. I pause at every page: That which I have just written, have I not said it elsewhere? And I go on writing because I cannot do otherwise.
I have a wife I love, and yet I write not about love but about solitude. I have a home filled with warmth, and yet I write about the misery of the condemned. Around us, our circle of friends becomes larger. I no longer boycott social events with the old determination. With novelists we discuss politics, with politicians we speak of art. Miraculously, I don't suffer from writer's block, the familiar complaint of those around us. Nor is a lack of topics one of my problems.
Madness and laughter are constant themes in my work. Ever since I heard Moshe the Madman and his song, I am unable to free myself of either -- nor do I want to.
The mystical madmen of Sighet, the beggars, bearers of secrets -- drawn to doom, they all appear in my fictional tales. But I am afraid to follow them too far, outside myself or deep within me.
Sometimes to elude them, other times to confront them, I work; never have I worked as hard: essays on the Bible and the Talmud, analyses of Hasidic tales, novellas, outlines of novels.
Travel no longer tempts me. I prefer to stay at home and study. There was a time when I considered family life an obstacle to literary creation. I was convinced that it was impossible to be both a good husband and a committed writer. Well, I now assert the opposite. For only now do I fully understand the expression Ezer kenegdo, which God uses in the Book of Genesis when He speaks of wishing to create Eve to serve as Adam's "helpful opposition." I owe much to Marion. She knows how to suggest, to correct, to critically evaluate texts and decisions.
Still, extraliterary pressures soon make themselves felt. In fact, they are not always negative.
With Saul Lieberman I continue to study the wealth of talmudic texts; with Abraham Joshua Heschel I share the beauty of Hasidic tales. We visit my sisters Hilda and Bea in France and Montreal. Serious, even tragic events take place in the world, while in my private life I discover the vulnerable but dazzling joy of a man who beholds the first smile of his child.
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This may well be the time to open parentheses: This volume is different from the preceding one, both in approach and intent.
Until now I have attempted to narrate mostly that which I see within myself; from here on I am also obligated to turn my attention to those who have been judging me.
If, for me, the first volume is a kind of formative work, the second evolves under the sign of conflict. So do not expect a discreet and passive stance from me. The introvert will yield to the extrovert.
And yet I shall omit things that are too private, too personal. I shall not speak of certain friends and other persons I have met who have marked me, for better or worse, since the seventies. All that I hope to include in a separate volume, "My Masters and My Friends."
On the other hand, I shall break a vow I made in All Rivers Run to the Sea. I shall take a stand against some of my adversaries, those who have, in my estimation, transgressed the limits of dialogue, having chosen obfuscation as their weapon and "demonization" as their goal. In most instances, it is not my person that is targeted. But in others, less numerous, I am the target, either as a symbol of something or as a witness whose testimony is troubling. Of course I have always rejected the notion of myself as a symbol. Symbols can be repudiated or even erased with impunity. Man is something else, a human being, not a symbol.
What I have said earlier I now reiterate: I detest polemics, but there comes a time when Shtika ke-hodaya dami, as the Talmud says, "Silence easily becomes acquiescence."
One must be willing to say no to lies, no to rancor. Will I succeed in being less mean than the mean ones, less perfidious too? I hope so. I have learned not to respond to rudeness. Why stoop to that level? A Master advised me, long ago, never to use a hatchet in my responses.
Let us close the parentheses.
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We left off on Tuesday, April 2, 1969, after a wedding ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem; let us stay there one more moment.
We had, in fact, thought of getting married a day earlier, but at the last minute Marion chose to postpone the ceremony by a day: "April first doesn't sound right," she said laughing. "Our friends will think we're not serious."
The day before the wedding is hectic. In Jerusalem one rarely is allowed to rest. Why would anyone call Jerusalem the City of Peace? What an idea! In Jerusalem you are never left in peace, not even on your wedding day. Friends and strangers come knocking at your door without warning, to ask whether you need anything, or whether you would like to meet this mystical merchant in Mea She'arim or that exotic madman near the Wall.
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At 6 on Tuesday the telephone rings. It is Teddy Kollek. The dynamic mayor of the city is inviting me to breakfast. Half asleep, I tell him that just like on Yom Kippur, on his wedding day the bridegroom-to-be is forbidden to eat or drink before the ceremony. "Come anyway," says Teddy, "I need to talk to you. It's urgent." With him everything is urgent, since everything concerns his city. In truth is there in all the world a city that lives more with urgency than Jerusalem?
This time the mayor is wrong -- our talk could have waited. But he is preoccupied with current events. Who isn't? He seems more so than anyone else, more so than appears warranted. He fears a hostile initiative by the U.N. to internationalize the Holy City. He would like to preempt it by creating a worldwide commission or association for the defense of the universality of Jerusalem. That is his reason for getting me out of bed on my wedding day. I tell him that his idea seems good, but that there is no hurry and, anyway, the name of the association would have to be changed; the one he has in mind is too long. I suggest "The International Committee for Jerusalem." He accepts. Can I go back to my room now?
By now it is after 7, and the ceremony is set for 11 a.m. I need to prepare myself. But no, Teddy is not done with me yet. Now he needs names of important people for this committee. Whom does he have in mind? It's up to me to find them. I run to get my address book; he knows his by heart. At 9 o'clock, he finally allows me to prepare for my wedding. My nephew Steve, Bea's son, joins me in my room. I shave and change my clothes. Twenty-five years later, I shall keep him company his entire wedding day.
An unforgettable Passover: In an ultrakosher Jerusalem hotel, my closest relatives celebrate a Seder conducted by my Master and friend Saul Lieberman. Bea is there with her husband, Len, and their two children, Sarah and Steve; Hilda with her son Sidney. I read the story of Exodus, and Lieberman dazzles us with his commentaries. But I have trouble concentrating. It has been a long and mentally exhausting day. I feel the presence of some, the absence of others. Which weighs more heavily? I think of my last Seder at home, far away.
The telephone does not stop ringing. No, it isn't Teddy again. The callers are colleagues. Every one of them has an idea, a project to propose. A paper on American-Jewish literature? If I am to believe my caller, the cultural fate of Israel -- perhaps even the God of Israel -- is at stake. I don't have time? Then how about an interview on that very subject? There follow interviews for radio, for a morning paper and an evening paper. Haïm Yavin, a national television star, a young, earnest man who does not as yet know how to smile, would like me to appear on his weekly show. I'm to take questions from four intellectuals, one of them the poet Haïm Gouri, translator of Night. When? The day after tomorrow. It won't take long, he promises. I ask around; my friends think it is a good idea. Very well, let's do it. The questions are easy, the comments typical. The goal of the writer? To testify. To say "Amen," which signifies: "That is how it is, that is how it was." I quote Malraux: "To leave a scratch on the surface of the Earth." All goes well. No trap, no arrow. Not yet.
A few minutes before the end, Yavin decides to provoke me: "What do you feel, you whose mind overflows with memories, when you meet Arab children in the Old City?" What I feel now is the blood draining from my face. Fortunately television is not yet in color; the television audience does not see me blanch. I try not to show my embarrassment as I respond: "It does actually happen that I come across Arab boys and girls. They ask me for money or chocolate. But sometimes they ask for nothing; all they want is for me to look at them. They want the Jew in me, thus the victor, to confront their defeat. And then, in the face of their suffering, their humiliation, I lower my eyes."
The telecast elicits praise and criticism. Moshe Sneh, the Communist member of Parliament, stops me in my hotel to tell me that he approves my words. What he says moves me, for to me he represents a living enigma. How could this Polish Zionist leader, this former chief of the Haganah, this brilliant mind, this fervent Jew, become a supporter of Stalin? Public opinion casts him as a renegade, or worse. I would like to spend an hour with him to question him, to get to know him better, and perhaps to understand him. But I don't dare intrude thus upon him. Will he ever return to his own? Will he ever find his way back to his roots? I know that later he instructed his son Ephraim, a young general and future minister under Yitzhak Rabin, to recite the Kaddish over his grave.
Marion and I had intended to stay another week or so in Israel, but we change our plans. Too many people to see, too many places to visit, too many invitations to accept or decline. Here it is just as traumatic to say yes as to say no. Marion reminds me that I am no longer a bachelor and that if I don't wish to become one again on the spot, I had better take her away, anywhere.
Before we leave, we meet with Paula and Noah Mozes, Dov and Lea Judkowski, Ruth and Eliyahu Amiqam (all from "my" newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth). They fall in love with Marion. We pass many pleasant hours. I visit Binyamin Halevy, the Supreme Court justice. We have known each other for some time. His daughter, Ofra, one of the young beauties of Jerusalem, was a friend of Nicolas, my comrade since 1945.
A handsome man, the judge. He has sharp features, contrasting with his warm gaze. He is refined, elegant. I had had several opportunities to discuss with him the two trials in which the Tragedy was central, those of Rudolf Kastner and Adolf Eichmann. Halevy presided over the first and participated in the second. I remember his resounding conclusions about Kastner, the Zionist leader who he said "sold his soul to the devil" in Budapest. And I remember the questions he asked, in German, of Eichmann.
But now I feel like discussing religion with him. For beyond the esteem in which I hold him professionally, he intrigues me as a man. A practicing Jew, he had opened the Kastner trial with his head covered by a kipa. But then suddenly, toward the middle of the trial, he appeared bareheaded. My question: What had precipitated the religious crisis revealed by this act? What had provoked it? A word of the accused, a gesture of the prosecutor, the tears of a survivor? Or perhaps a point made by Shmuel Tamir, former officer of the Irgun and future minister of justice under Menachem Begin?
He does not answer. Instead he asks me a question in strictest confidence. Begin has offered him a seat in the Knesset. What to do? Forsake justice for politics?
Who am I to advise him? The skeptic in me distrusts politics and, even more, politicians. In the end the judge succumbed to temptation. And came to regret it.
From the Hardcover edition.
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