People react to suffering in different ways and the authors of two books* on my worth-reading list came to diametrically opposite conclusions about God following imprisonment in a concentration camp. Elie Wiesel’s faith died when he arrived at Auschwitz and saw bodies in pits being consumed by fire. Corrie ten Boom also saw terrible sights in Ravensbrück but emerged with her faith in God intact.
Elie was fifteen years old when he, his family and other Jews from his area of Transylvania were taken to Auschwitz by the Nazis. His account of his first night there is haunting.
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.”
Elie and his father eventually ended up in Buchenwald. His father died there in January 1945; Elie survived and was there when the camp was liberated by American troops in April. There’s an incredible photo on Wikipedia that shows some of those who were liberated, including Elie Wiesel (second row, seventh from left). It seems presumptuous for someone like me, who has never witnessed such horrors to review a book like this; I can only say, “Read it.”
Corrie ten Boom was a member of a Dutch family, arrested by the Nazis for sheltering Jews. Her father died in prison ten days after the arrest and her sister, Betsie, died in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Corrie’s book describes horrors similar to those recounted by Elie but in not such a heartrending way. Her experience was that “in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.” She and Betsie organised services in the camp. After the war she set up a home for those who had been scarred in body or soul. She found that for all of them “the key to healing turned out to be the same. Each had a hurt he had to forgive: the neighbour who had reported him, the brutal guard, the sadistic soldier.” She herself found healing in forgiveness and writes about her struggle to shake the hand of a man who had stood guard in the shower room at Ravensbrück.
Elie Wiesel brilliantly conveys the despair of the death camps; Corrie ten Boom preached that “joy runs deeper than despair.”
*Night by Elie Wiesel was originally published in French in 1958
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill was first published in 1971