Scrapbookpages Blog

November 9, 2010

Did Elie Wiesel ever dream that something like this would happen?

Filed under: Buchenwald, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 2:32 pm

When Elie Wiesel was a young man, studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in the 1950s, did he ever dream that there would some day be a web site devoted to him, called Elie Wiesel Cons the World?  Back in 1955, Elie Wiesel had his first book published; it was a thin volume, entitled Night, which used all the creative writing techniques that he had learned at the Sorbonne.  I think he actually wrote this book, as I previously blogged here.

I am about the same age as Elie Wiesel and, back in the 1950s, I was in college, studying creative writing during the two years of study that it took to get into Journalism School.  I was writing short stories for class assignments and actually sending them to well-known magazines, foolishly thinking that I could become a published writer.  Maybe Elie Wiesel was collecting rejection slips from magazines the same way that I was.

In my college classes, the students were taught to write their fictional stories about what they knew, in other words, about their own personal experience.  It never occurred to me to write about someone else’s life and maybe that’s why I never got any of my short stories published.  Maybe Elie Wiesel was on the same track, when he realized that his own life was too boring, and he decided to write about someone else’s life as a prisoner at Auschwitz and later at Buchenwald, never dreaming that anyone would accuse him of plagiarism, 50 years later.  (In my day, students used to say: “Don’t shade your eyes — plagiarize.” It was done all the time. No big deal.)

Elie Wiesel was truly a pioneer in writing a book about the Holocaust.  In the 1950s, not many people were interested in this subject, especially not in America.  The war was over and life was good.  There was great prosperity and Americans were happy and contented.  There was no reason to dwell on the past.  The Holocaust was not yet a word and people in America didn’t talk about the “genocide” of the Jews.

However, there was more interest in the subject in Europe.  A Frenchman named Paul Rassinier wrote his first book Crossing the Line in 1949, in which he described the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he was imprisoned because he was a captured French Resistance fighter.  (Buchenwald was the main camp for French Resistance fighters.)

Rassinier is called the “father of Holocaust denial” and his book is considered to be the first Holocaust denial book. In the book, he criticized the Communist prisoners who actually ran the Buchenwald camp. He claimed that many of the brutalities in the camp were committed by the mainly Communist prisoners who took over the Haftlingsfuhrung and ran the internal affairs of the camp to benefit themselves. Rassinier blamed the high death rate at Buchenwald on the corrupt prisoners who actually ran the camp.  The Communist prisoners decided who would eat and who would not.

But I digress. I don’t think that Elie Wiesel ever considered that using someone else’s story as his own was wrong.  His main consideration was that he was using all the techniques that he learned in creative writing and his book today is mostly taught in English classes in America, rather than in history classes.

His book Night does not mention the gas chambers at Auschwitz, nor at Buchenwald.  Not mentioning the gas chambers at Auschwitz makes Elie Wiesel a Holocaust denier himself.  Maybe that’s why he said on his own web site that the book was a NOVEL.

I blame the current controversy about the book on the Oprah Winfrey TV Show.  Oprah selected Night as her Book Club selection a few years ago, and Elie quickly changed his web site, so that the book was no longer called a novel.

Now the Elie Wiesel Cons the World web site is sponsoring a contest for college students to write about the ethics involved in the book controversy and Elie’s claim that the story of Night is his own life experience.  Will Elie Wiesel finally come clean and tell the truth?  I don’t think so, and I also don’t think that any of the students at Boston University will write an essay for the contest.  If anyone does have the courage to write such an essay, he or she will probably be kicked out of college.