This is the second Reader Response essay I wrote when I was reading "Night" in Lit class.
Subject: the role of faith in surviving hard times.
The Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s was one of the most tragic events that the world has ever seen. And for those who went through it and survived, it would change their life forever. One of these survivors is Elie Wiesel, who was imprisoned at Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald from May 1944 to April 1945. Being one of the few who survived this event made a huge impact on his life. He felt a large amount of responsibility- to tell the stories of those who died, and to make sure that nothing like it would ever happen again. In addition to that, the Holocaust changed Elie Wiesel’s life because it challenged his belief in God. He, like so many others, questioned why God was allowing these events, these atrocities, to take place. Why didn’t God stop it, if He was as all-powerful as the Scriptures say? Wiesel has never stopped asking this questions, along with others. He says that he has become somewhat reconciled with God, but he will never stop lashing out at Him for allowing the Holocaust to take place. Yet, he also seems to believe that without his faith, he would not have survived the death camps.
It is certainly possible that without his faith, Wiesel would not have survived the death camps, for with faith comes hope. Many people, in losing their faith, also lost the hope of life beyond Auschwitz or Buchenwald or any of the other camps. Without that hope, without the feeling that it was possible to make another life that was free of terror, the prisoners just gave up. They no longer had the will to live, and so they died. In his book Night, Wiesel talks about a man in his block, Akiba Drumer. Wiesel said that when he was selected to leave, Akiba Drumer had lost whatever faith he had left, and “his eyes would become blank, nothing but two open wounds, two pits of terror.” When he was selected and realized that he would be dying very soon, Akiba Drumer simply gave up. He lost his will to live, or, in the words of Wiesel, his “reason to struggle.”
Under normal circumstances, Christians don’t always find themselves being given a strenuous test of faith, a test that will make or break them depending on if they give up. Yet they still rebel against God. Many people throughout history have rebelled against God, but they often realize that God is still God, and they come out of it much stronger people than they were before. Before, they were like children- innocent, trusting, believing everything they were told. Then something happens. They find a command or an aspect of the character of God that they just don’t like. So they revolt. They hope that something will change after their rebellion, perhaps even as a result of it. In this stage, they are spiritual teenagers- revolting against God, the ultimate authority figure. Some people stay in this stage for their whole life. They completely turn their back on God. But many, realizing that their rebellion was only hurting them, come back to God. Sometimes their questions (which most often start with the word “why”) are answered, but most often they are not. They are only appeased. They have come back to God with a sense of peace- much more than they could have ever wished for. They are now spiritual adults, who have many, if not all, of the Fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They have matured. Yet, in the same way, they are a great deal like the children they once were. They trust God to take care of them. They are content to let Him be God. They have completed the circle of faith. This circle of faith is one that many people start, but few complete. Some people start out believing, with faith like a child, and stay with that simple faith their entire life. Now, this is not a bad way to be, but it does mean that you may not have the chance to question God and listen for His answer.
That answer will, of course, come in God’s time and in God’s way. There is a story that tells of a man crying out for God to speak. God sends a wind, but the man does not recognize it. The man keeps challenging God, and God keeps answering, but still the man cannot hear or see God’s responses. This story illustrates the fact that we humans have a hard time seeing God acting in our daily lives. We now rarely see miracles. We have to strain to hear the voice of God speaking to us. If it is so hard for us to recognize God today, when we hear musicians singing and pastors preaching endlessly that God is right here, when there are books written on the topic of hearing God’s voice, then it is almost impossible to imagine how the believers who were victims of the atrocities of the Holocaust could keep whatever faith they did. It must have been hard to go on when you feel like God has hidden His face from you, and you cannot find even the most remote sign of His presence. Yet they worshipped God. They said the ritual blessings; they sang the holy songs on the Sabbath; they “celebrated” their holidays. Beyond their worship, they questioned God endlessly. Most of these questions started with “where” or “why”. Why did God allow the Holocaust to continue? Where was God? To this day, the answers are not known. We shall probably never know until we reach Heaven.
The Holocaust was an event that changed the lives of many people. Those who survived found themselves with feelings of both guilt and responsibility. They felt guilty because they survived where six million others did not. This was not necessarily his or her fault, but it is hard to shake the feeling that it shouldn’t have been you; it should have been someone else. They also felt responsible because, since they had survived, they should make sure that another Hitler would not come along and commit the same atrocities while the world stood by and let it happen. At the very least they could ensure that the stories were told and that the world would know what had happened. Hopefully, if this happened, future generations would want to make sure that the past was not repeated. The Holocaust also altered lives because it altered faith. The believers in the concentration camps who survived found that they could no longer simply accept what they once had. God had, seemingly, abandoned them, and it is hard to reconcile with that. However, they also accepted that faith gave them the hope to survive. Perhaps someday they will resolve their questions, but that will not likely happen until they reach a place where God can answer them directly- when they meet him in Heaven.