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Wiesel   Letter 06   08-Apr-1999   Raping German girls
 
The implication, in the Yiddish, is that rape is a frivolous dereliction of the obligation to fulfill the "historical commandment of revenge."

April 8, 1999
Elie Wiesel
University Professor and
Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities
Boston University
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts  02215
USA

Dear Mr. Wiesel:

I bring to your attention the following excerpts from Naomi Seidman's essay, Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish Rage.  The event of central concern is the deal that you struck with French Catholic writer and Nobel Laureate François Mauriac at your meeting with him in 1954, which deal encompassed Mauriac launching your literary career, but at a price, referred to by Naomi Seidman below as a "transformation" in your writing.

François Mauriac launches your career.

What Mauriac gave Wiesel in return for this transformation was the weight of his moral authority and the power of his literary status.  Mauriac found Wiesel a publisher, wrote his first and most glowing reviews, even dedicated his Life of Jesus to him, the "crucified Jewish child" (!); in short, Mauriac found and secured Wiesel the larger audience he wanted.  And in conversation with Mauriac, Wiesel developed a language to talk about the Jewish genocide that could hold the attention of Jews and Christians, a considerable achievement indeed.  (Naomi Seidman, Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish rage, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society, Fall 1996, Volume 3, Number 1, p. 16, parenthesized exclamation mark was in the original)

In return for two concessions.

(1) Stop talking about Jewish revenge:

The [1954] encounter [between Mauriac and Wiesel], it seems to me, could be described as a series of delicate negotiations, in which the survivor's first concession was to relinquish all talk (if not thought) of Jewish revenge and why not?  As an author whose audience crossed ethnic boders, it made sense for Wiesel to suppress an impossible fantasy whose clearest effect would be to alienate Christians.  (Naomi Seidman, Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish rage, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society, Fall 1996, Volume 3, Number 1, p. 15)

And here is the leading example of you making this concession in your description of events following the liberation of Buchenwald:

But the Yiddish [of Un di velt, your early version of Night] continues: "Early the next day, Jewish boys ran off to Weimar to steal clothing and potatoes.  And to rape German girls [un tsu fargvaldikn daytshe shikses].  The historical commandment of revenge was not fulfilled."  In French this passage reads: "Le lendemain, quelques jeunes gens coururent Weimar ramasser des pommes de terre et des habits et coucher avec des filles.  Mais de vengeance, pas trace."  Or, in Stella Rodway's English rendition: "On the following morning, some of the young men went to Weimar to get some potatoes and clothes and to sleep with girls.  But of revenge, not a sign."

To describe the differences between these versions as a stylistic reworking is to miss the extent of what is suppressed in the French.  Un di velt depicts a post-Holocaust landscape in which Jewish boys "run off" to steal provisions and rape German girls; Night extracts from this scene of lawless retribution a far more innocent picture of the aftermath of the war, with young men going off to the nearest city to look for clothes and sex.  In the Yiddish, the survivors are explicitly described as Jews and their victims (or intended victims) as German; in the French, they are just young men and women.  The narrator of both versions decries the Jewish failure to take revenge against the Germans, but this failure means something different when it is emblematized, as it is in Yiddish, with the rape of German women.  The implication, in the Yiddish, is that rape is a frivolous dereliction of the obligation to fulfill the "historical commandment of revenge"; presumably fulfillment of this obligation would involve a concerted and public act of retribution with a clearly defined target.  Un di velt does not spell out what form this retribution might take, only that it is sanctioned even commanded by Jewish history and tradition.  (Naomi Seidman, Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish rage, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society, Fall 1996, Volume 3, Number 1, p. 6)

(2) And don't implicate the French in the Holocaust:

Wiesel's second concession was to narrow the target of his hatred to avoid accusing Mauriac or his countrymen of the crimes of complicity or silence.  (Naomi Seidman, Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish rage, Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society, Fall 1996, Volume 3, Number 1, p. 15)

But I am left with four questions.

(1) Jewish vengeance?  Naomi Seidman above leaves the decided impression that there exists within Jewish culture an inexorable call for vengeance.  Thus, she cites your own words alluding to "the historical commandment of revenge," which she adds is "sanctioned even commanded by Jewish history and tradition."  As I can recollect no comparable call for revenge within Ukrainian or Canadian or American cultures, I find this Jewish call for revenge surprising, and perhaps out of keeping with Western traditions, and wonder if you would be able to confirm its existence, and to elaborate on it?

(2) The target of Jewish vengeance is collective?  It surprises me further that the Jewish call for vengeance is not limited to individuals guilty of wrongdoing against the Jewish people, but that it extends to all Germans, even those who are likely guiltless of any wrongdoing, such as German girls.  Would you be able to confirm that Jewish vengeance does indeed extend broadly to all members of a national group in cases where some members of that group have committed crimes against the Jewish people?

(3) Raping German girls is too mild to constitute vengeance?  Upon liberation, the Jews of Buchenwald ran off to rape German girls, and yet you view this action as insufficient to fulfill the Jewish historical commandment of revenge.  I wonder if you would care to elaborate exactly what sort of actions would be severe enough to fulfill the Jewish historical commandment of revenge?

(4) Your literary career success has been a French protection payment?  Naomi Seidman proposes the view that protection from Holocaust blame can be purchased from Jews in the same way that protection from arson can be purchased from the mafia, and that your career success has been the French payment for just such protection.  Would you be able to confirm that Jewish leaders assign Holocaust blame not entirely on the basis of guilt, but also taking political favors into account?  And would you care to comment on the possibility that Ukrainians have been singled out today to shoulder a disproportionate share of the blame for the Holocaust take the persecution of John Demjanjuk as a leading example of severe punishment applied in the absence of any provable wrongdoing simply because Ukrainians have as yet failed to offer Jews anything in compensation for their directing their historical commandment of revenge toward some other victims?


Yours truly,


Lubomyr Prytulak


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