Principes de la philosophie

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René Descartes

1. Repeatedly we see points of disparity between Wiesel’s memoirs and events as they actually happened. For example, the Yiddish and English versions of the book are written with slightly differing accounts, with the Yiddish version detailing Jewish revenge that occurred slightly after Buchenwald was liberated (in the form of, for instance, raping German girls), while the English version emphasizes that the Jewish men slept with girls but did not perpetrate revenge. There are Holocaust deniers who maintain that the entire Holocaust was a fabrication. Given that Wiesel seemed to engineer some of his facts, how can one accept this memoir as truth?

Possible Answer: Some aspects may be engineered to give it greater fictitious impact. The incidents, taken as a whole, were authentic.

2. Wiesel’s book was written to emphasize that it is important to remember that the Holocaust occurred and that one should, indeed, never forget. Some say, however, that “it would be senseless to burden our children with the tragedies of the Jewish past” (xiv). What do you think?

Possible Answer: One needs to know facts of history, whether they are palatable or not, in order to learn from experience.

3. Survivors of the Holocaust, among others, insist that the Holocaust could occur as a contemporary event to any nation, including America. After all, Germany was the most cultured nation of its era: It generated composers, philosophers, psychologists, and other learned men, yet nonetheless yielded the Holocaust. Do you consider them correct?

Possible Answer: One can never predict. Responses may differ here.

4. The classic question: How could a benevolent and omnipotent God have allowed the Holocaust to occur?

Possible Answer: Responses may vary here, including responses that God has omniscient perspective; His reasoning is inscrutable; the Holocaust was necessary in order to prompt the extraordinary Jewish exodus to Palestine and the consequent world interest in the Jewish settlement that would otherwise never have occurred.

5. Some writers (e.g., Norman Finkelstein in his book the Holocaust Industry) criticize Night on the grounds that the Holocaust is no different from the genocide of Rwandans in Africa or, for that matter, of the Gypsies executed by the Nazis. Wiesel ignores these criticisms, claiming to see a distinction. What do you think?

Possible Answer: The Holocaust was different in intensity, depth, and intention. This response can, however, be debated.

6. At face value, and given certain key quotations, it seems as though Wiesel rejects God’s existence. Nonetheless, in chapter three he tells us, “I did not deny God's existence, but I doubted His absolute justice.” How can you explain this?

Possible Answer: Wiesel thought that God may be impotent to prevent monstrous human behavior. We may also explain the apparent contradiction as Wiesel thinking that God’s system of justice was warped.

  1. . Due to Dr. Mengele’s selection process, an inmate advised the prisoners to run fast and, most importantly, not to feel fear. This seems to be applicable to life in general: The ability to run fast through the terror and not feel fear may be a capability that can help people overcome all sorts of terrors and challenges.

Possible Answer: This is insightful, and has vast implications.

8. Akiba Drumer, for much of the war, rationalized the terrors by faith in God. As soon as that dissipated, “he could no longer fight, he had no more strength” (63). He gave up “and opened the door to death” (ibid). Victor Frankl, another famous inmate, later noted that meaning in life enabled survival—hence his psychotherapy of logotherapy and his insight that man needs meaning to survive. Eliezer, too, had lost his faith in God. What enabled Eliezer to survive?

Possible Answer: The personal meaning that he gave the Holocaust—namely, to bear witness and to live for his father—imparted meaning for the author. Wiesel, indeed, recounts that with his father’s death, he lost the will to survive.

9. Chapter seven recounts the incident of the German laborer throwing a piece of bread into the car as charity. Elie muses about the similar spectacle of an elegant Parisian lady who threw coins to the natives. Why was this not charity—why else would the woman have done this? How could she have distributed her coins in a truly charitable way?

Possible Answer: The woman was tormenting the waifs and taking pity in their suffering. She could have perpetrated a better, more meaningful charitable act in countless discreet ways, such as giving indirectly to the poor or establishing an orphanage.

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