Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea by Elie Wiesel

Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea
Elie Wiesel
Published 1995
The Well-Educated Mind (Biographies)

Elie Wiesel was fifteen when he and his family were deported to a concentration camp in 1945.  By the time of his liberation, he had become an orphan.  All Rivers Run to the Sea recollects much of his life after liberation, including his travels all over the world, particularly as a young man without a country to call his home.

This was a long read, and at times I was frustrated because Wiesel was jumping around and rambling on; but that is because I had a specific expectation that this book would be about his best work, Night, the short memoir of his time in Buchenwald and Auschwitz.  Instead, he wrote about people and his later life experiences that inspired and influenced him and ultimately shaped his life path.  As soon as I removed my preconceived notions, I was able to appreciate this work.

Immediately after liberation he lived with other Jewish orphans in France, and continued his education and the study and practice of his Jewish religion.  As an adult, though, it was time to move out into the world, on his own.  Eventually, ten years after liberation, Wiesel was stirred to write about the brutal injustices of the Holocaust.  According to him, no one was talking or writing about it. How soon the world had conveniently forgotten the Holocaust.  So he wrote and published Night.

If you consider what he suffered - his parents, a sibling, other relatives, his birth home in Romania, his personal belongings, and his youth stolen from him - it is remarkable how quickly he rose up and continued on.  He became a journalist, traveled the world, and met world leaders, philosophers, Jewish teachers, authors, journalists, and social activists.  He became a writer and preserved the history of the Jewish people, especially the memory of the Holocaust.   He witnessed captivating events from history, including the rebirth of Israel, in 1948.  Eventually he became a citizen of the United States, and he was no longer a man without a home.

He provoked the consciences of the world with his questions why the free world and free Jews (especially in America) remained quiet assuming they knew what the fate of European Jews would be.  Why did they not expose Hitler?  And yet, he later learned that his father had purchased tickets for his entire family to escape to America, but then gave a portion of his tickets to another family member who survived by fleeing before the deportations.  Why did Elie's father wait?  Why did so many Jews wait until it was too late?  The warnings were given, but this is what Elie did not want to hear people ask or say. Instead he continued asking why free nations did not do more to expose the deportations, the camps, the murders, and Hitler's ultimate plans.  Elie focused mostly on preserving the memory of the Holocaust, so that it would never be forgotten, and never repeated.

All Rivers Run to the Sea was not published until the 1980s, but these memoirs end in the late tumultuous 1960s.  He included his thoughts about the sixties in The Fifth Son:
America, Europe, and Asia underwent deep, gripping convulsions on a global scale, shaking the youth of my generation . . .
Ideas and ideals, slogans and principles, rigid old systems and theories, anything linked to yesterday and yesteryear's supposed earthly paradise was rejected with rage and scorn.  Suddenly children struck fear in their parents, students in their teachers.  In the movies it was the criminal and not the police who won our sympathy, the malefactor and not the lawman who had the starring role.  In philosophy there was a flight to simplicity, in literature a negation of style.  In ethics humanism stirred laughter . . . Universities no longer taught literature or sociology but revolution and counterrevolution, or even counter-counterrevolution of the right, the left, or somewhere in between.  Students could no longer write a sentence or formulate a coherent thought, and they were proud of it.  If a professor happened to voice his displeasure, he was boycotted, called a reactionary, and told to go back to his university titles, scholarly works, and archaic concepts.  Next time let him be born into another society, another era.
WOW!!  Nothing has changed, right?

One last point: Wiesel took the title of his memoirs from Ecclesiastes 1:7.  It reads:
All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
 Elie Wiesel passed away July 2015, in New York.

Elie Wiesel 1928-2016


Cleo said...

I really enjoyed this one. Wiesel had some great insights. However, I will be glad to finish up the biographies and move on to Histories!

Ruth said...

Hi, Cleo. I replied to you at your blog under this title. I'm so happy to have completed the bios, too.