Wiesel   Letter 05   07-Apr-1999   Critique of Pure Reason
The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish.
April 07, 1999
Elie Wiesel
University Professor and
Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities
Boston University
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts  02215

Dear Mr. Wiesel:

Norman G. Finkelstein sums up your contribution to Holocaust remembrance as follows:

Indeed, Goldhagen is to Holocaust scholarship what Elie Wiesel is to Holocaust memory.  In a highly-praised new memoir, All Rivers Run to the Sea, New York 1995, Wiesel documents his credibility as a witness.  Recently liberated from Buchenwald and only eighteen years old, he reports, "I read The Critique of Pure Reason don't laugh! in Yiddish." (pp. 139, 163-4)  Leaving aside Wiesel's acknowledgement that at the time "I was wholly ignorant of Yiddish grammar" (pp. 139, 163-4), The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish.  This is only one of a number of extraordinary episodes in the book (for others, see pp. 121-30, 202).  He who "refuses to believe me", Wiesel protests, "is lending credence to those who deny the Holocaust." (p. 336)  (Norman G. Finkelstein, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's "Crazy" Thesis: A Critique of Hitler's Willing Executioners, New Left Review, Summer 1997, pp. 39-87, p. 84).

In addition to Norman Finkelstein's impugning your integrity, we find in your own writing the acknowledgement that others have done so as well.  Thus, you yourself acknowledge that literary critic Alfred Kazin has joined his voice to the chorus of incredulity:

[Alfred Kazin] wrote that he would not be surprised to find that the episode in Night describing three inmates who were hanged together had been invented.  (Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Alfred A. Knopf, Canada, 1995, p. 336)

It would appear from the positions taken by Finkelstein and Kazin above, as well as from materials presented in my previous letters to you, that the nature of your writing is such as to invite incredulity and sometimes even ridicule.  Your reaction so far has been the inadequate one of inviting a circling of the Holocaust-survivor wagons, with yourself at the center, on the argument that if you are discredited, then all survivor testimony will be discredited:

In the last analysis, a man like Kazin is lending credence to those who deny the Holocaust.  If he refuses to believe me, why should others, more removed, believe any survivor?  (Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Alfred A. Knopf, Canada, 1995, p. 336)

However, your attempt to link the fates of true and false Holocaust stories must ultimately fail.  Ultimately, despite your dire warning that the true will perish along with the false, it will be the false stories alone that are weeded out, and the true stories will grow all the stronger for not being choked by falsehood on all sides.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak