Chapter 1-Chapter 3

Chapter One

Eliezer’s memoir begins in 1941 where, as a boy of 13, he lived in Sighet, a small hamlet on the border between Hungary and Romania. Steeped in the Talmud and in Jewish orthodoxy, he knew little about the world around him and even less about non-Jewish life. Eliezer was the third of four children. His father, a cultured man, ran a store.

In Sighet, too, lived Moshe the Beadle, a morose clown of sorts who discreetly taught Eliezer the Kabbalah. Moshe himself had been transported to Polish territory, where he had seen most of the Jewish deportees executed by the Gestapo. Moshe had escaped and warned the village about the impending holocaust, but the village laughed at him and ignored him. This was in 1942.

In the meantime, life continued as usual until 1943, when Budapest radio announced that Germany had seized Hungary and German troops marched into Hungary. Even then, the Sighet Jews thought that the Germans would content themselves with Budapest alone.

At first, the Germans were polite and charming, but on the seventh day of Passover, the edicts began and moved in fast motion: The Jews were prohibited from leaving their residences; Jews had to hand over valuables to the Gestapo; Jews had to wear a yellow star; Jews were only allowed in certain geographic areas; Jews had to live in ghettos.

The Sighet Jews resigned themselves to the ghetto with delusion. It was ruled by the Germans, but to the Jews of Sighet, they viewed it as a positive thing: It was ruled by the Jews. Delusion became a way of life as means of survival.

Two weeks before Shavuot, the people were informed that the denizens of the ghetto were to be evacuated, with their destination being a secret. The people were docile and ready for the convoy. Leaving just with a sack on their backs, hungry and thirsty, they were beaten with whips and commanded to move faster until they reached an even smaller ghetto. Again they consoled themselves with delusions:

“They worry lest we join the...

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Essays About Night