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As the Holocaust got underway, people all over Europe were reluctant to believe that something so awful was happening. Most people didn't want to believe that man was capable of such inhumanity to man. The initial reports of what was happening in the ghettoes and in the camps were so horrific that most simply chose not to believe them. Furthermore, most people were unwilling to accept that Europeans, civilized, cultured and intelligent, were complicit in allowing this to happen in the twentieth century. Sadly, those who were unwilling to believe the truth were often the first to be deported to the ghettoes or the camps.
The people in Sighet were educated, rational adults. The very idea of government-sanctioned mass murder was beyond their ability to comprehend, much less accept. In order to understand the horror of Hitler's master plan, it was necessary for those outside the Third Reich to see the inside of the camps. Even then, it was almost beyond human comprehension. My first husband's grandfather helped liberate two of the camps during WWII. He would not talk about it except to say that the people who were held there were "pitiful, so pitiful." It drove him to alcoholism.
I think there are a variety of reasons. For one, Moshe the Beedle was a foreigner. He is respected, but he is not revered as Elie's father was, so therefore they took everything he said with a grain of salt. He is not one of "them".
For another thing, tales cruelty and barbarism such that he brought back to them are hard to swallow. No one wants to believe that humanity is capable of such things. Why do you think there is such a large faction of people who still today refute the existence of a Holocaust? It is hard to believe that heartless behavior such as that the Nazis displayed during WWII toward the Jews is possible.
Just to add to Post #4, in addition to the far-reaching, general reasons for the Jews' refusal to heed warnings before the Holocaust, I think Wiesel specifically includes Moche to demonstrate that Jews were unwilling to listen to anyone who bore unpleasant, seemingly far-away news. Moche is an eye-witness to the Nazi's cruelty, yet the Jews of Sighet write him off. With Wiesel's description of Moche in Chapter 1, it is somewhat understandable why they would not listen to Moche even though he had firsthand information. He is "clownlike" and seems to spend all his time with his head on heavenly ideas, not on earthly, practical matters. If one is trying to deny that something as horrible as deportation and genocide is coming, it would be easy to disregard the "rants" of someone like Moche.
Sighet was such a peaceful and quiet town; who would believe such violence and hate existed?
Moishe was also not someone in town that was considered a trusted source, so it was much easier to interpret his prophecies as the mumblings of a madman rather than something that was definitely going to happen.
I think in a way we are all like the town of Sighet, naive in thinking that nothing bad can happen to us, thinking that nothing will disturb our peaceful existence--that's human nature--it would be impossible to live our lives believing that a horrible fate was around every corner. In the case of Sighet though, their prophesied fate became reality.
First, Moishe, although trusted by Elie, was not known for his truthfulness and reliability. If you put yourself in the people of Sighet's shoes, if some homeless man starts shouting that, lets say, Obama hates Iraqi people and their religion (not that this is true), nobody would believe the homeless man! This is just like the case in Sighet.
Secondly, nobody wants to believe something so awful is happening, especially in a town that is so peaceful, like Sighet.
This incident to me captures one of the themes of at least the earlier part of the novel: the capacity of individuals to ignore the reality that is coming and also the way we so often discount information that is too hard for us to accept. What is key about Moishe´s account is the horror of it - using children for machine gun practice for example. The Jews in Hungary just weren´t prepared to face that humanity could be that bad. Unfortunately Moishe is another example of a character in the novel who, Cassandra-like, speaks truth that is not believed.
Elie writes from the perspective of time, and he's able to see what should have and could have been seen at the time but wasn't. Moshe the Beadle speaks truth to them but they refuse to hear it. Who would believe what he told them? At one point later in the story Elie writes about the wearing of the yellow bands. The people ask, what's the harm? What can they do to us, kill us? Ironically and tragically, the answer is yes.
When the Nazis came into the little town of Sighet, they had given them many presents, and would laugh and live harmoniously with the people in Sighet. Sighet was also a little town, and no one truly believed that the Nazis would bother to even care about Sighet one bit.
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