Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Final Solution and a man of letters whose radiant humanism cut through the shadows he often railed against, has died at the age of 87, his long life and calm, compassionate voice nothing less than a sustained middle finger flipped upward from a clenched fist and aimed squarely at the Fuhrer's smug, dead face.
Night was his calling card, a stark, gut-stripping meditation on his time spent in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. It was an integral part of my adolescence, and not just for the voyeuristic jolt I got from other true-life snuff like Helter Skelter and The Onion Field.
There was something about the way Wiesel, coming into contact with hate at its most systematically efficient, wrestled with the contradictions of the human condition. It made me question. Everything.
"In Night, I wanted to show the end, the finality of the event. Everything came to an end—man, history, literature, religion, God. There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with night."
Fear, unprotected by religious, cultural or martial padding, is a joyride few take, and fewer willingly. Young Elie Wiesel, forced into doing so by those wacky Nazis, confronted evil with a stoic heart and a poet's eye, and gave us a humanist "Dark Night of the Soul".
"Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends...everyone lives and dies for himself alone."
Around one hundred pages of raw existentialism, without the safety net of academia or artistic conceit. Few rubbed against hate on such specific terms. It is brutal, soul-ripping stuff. If Nietzsche had the hair on his balls he had on his ridiculous upper lip, he would have come close to what Wiesel did with "Night".
But Wiesel wasn't playing head games. And when it came time to step away from the abyss, he did so gracefully, and with a profound embrace of morality, rather than some nebulous transcendence of it.
In doing so, he challenged us.
"As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours..."
Even though he carried with him scars, and wrestled with demons few of us can imagine, he thrived. With his life, in his actions, and in his entreaties, he got his revenge.
While Hitler was forced to blow his own brains out at the age of fifty-four, Elie Wiesel lived almost twice that long, a full life, with a loving family, real friends and a quiet joy in living life.
Remember Elie Wiesel. Lend your voice. Buttfuck the abyss.
July 3, 2016