I am trying to understand the war. But not just the war, what about the war would make a 30 year old father with one small son and a daughter on the way voluntary choose to leave his family, possibly never to return, and decide to enlist in the United States Army.
Logically I know why. I studied WWII in school. I learned about the Holocaust. But in my happy suburban life I have no context for that kind of horror. I have experienced loss of people I loved, but only one at a time and they died slowly, surrounded by people who loved them, or quickly, in a moment that left a void, but without humiliation, without torture, without the endless fear that were only pieces of that terrible puzzle.
So I have been reading about the war and about what happened over there in plain view of the world. In February, I read a book called The Last Survivor: Legacies of Dachau (which I will review later), but last night I finished reading a first hand account of survival in a terrible series of concentration camps: Eli Wiesel’s Night.
The book itself is thin – only 115 pages, but it is not in any way light. His prose (newly translated by his wife Marion Wiesel) is spare and raw and simple, which makes it all the more cutting. This is a book that can change a life, from a man whose honesty can change the world, a man who won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. This version of the book includes his acceptance speech which for me was every bit as impactful as the book itself. In his words:
“… the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffereng and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tomentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe…
There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, a Martin Luther King Jr. – one person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all else is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled, we shall lend them ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”
My Grandfather chose a side at tremendous personal cost, not just to him, but to his family, and their families. I believe he did this, not just because the Army needed doctors, but because the stakes were just so incredibly high, and the cost of staying silent was even higher.