In Elie Wiesel's Night, why don’t the Jews in Sighet listen to Moshe the Beadle's warnings about the Holocaust?

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There are, sadly, people in the world today who deny that there had ever been a systematic and painfully successful policy and effort on the part of Nazi Germany to eliminate entire groups of people from the earth. To most such individuals, a hatred of Judaism, anti-Semitism, resides at the...

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There are, sadly, people in the world today who deny that there had ever been a systematic and painfully successful policy and effort on the part of Nazi Germany to eliminate entire groups of people from the earth. To most such individuals, a hatred of Judaism, anti-Semitism, resides at the core of their beliefs. To others, the suggestion that such an effort could possibly have been conceptualized and carried out simply defies belief. For many European Jews during the 1930s, the thought that discrimination and abuse—mainstays of Jewish existence throughout Europe for hundreds of years—could extend to extermination was similarly beyond comprehension.

Such is the situation Elie Wiesel described in Night, his depiction of life as a young European Jew during the Holocaust. In Wiesel’s account, this manifestation of disbelief—until it was too late—is embodied in the person of Moishe the Beadle. Early in Night, Wiesel describes the figure of Moishe the Beadle in the context of the young boy’s to-date unrequited desire to be educated in ancient mystical Jewish beliefs, as follows:

Moishe the Beadle, the poorest of the poor of Sighet, spoke to me for hours on end about the Kabbalah's revelations and its mysteries.

Moishe, the “poorest of the poor” and “awkward as a clown,” is an eccentric figure in Wiesel’s village. His socioeconomic status and fervent belief in and respect for Kabbalah constitutes a mark against his credibility when that credibility was most tested. When the fascist authorities decree that all foreign Jews in the town of Sighet must assemble for relocation, Moishe, a foreigner to this town, is among those taken away. He returns, however, with a story of mass slaughter of his fellow Jews at the hands of the Nazis that is met with disbelief by the other Jews of Sighet, as described by Wiesel:

people not only refused to believe his tales, they refused to listen. Some even insinuated that he only wanted their pity, that he was imagining things. Others flatly said that he had gone mad. As for Moishe, he wept and plead.

Wiesel’s fellow Jews rejected Moishe the Beadle’s tale of mass execution because they ascribed to this almost pathetic figure absolutely no credibility and because, as noted, the notion of extermination was beyond their ability to comprehend—a phenomenon unfortunately repeated in villages and towns across Eastern Europe.

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Moishe the Beadle is known throughout the small town as a poor man with mystic beliefs, who is relatively harmless. He is one of the first Jews transported across the Hungarian border to the Galician forest, where Nazi soldiers form a firing squad and kill hundreds of foreign Jews. Miraculously, Moishe survives the firing squad after being wounded in the leg and left for dead. When he returns to Sighet, he tells his horrific story and begs the citizens to listen to him. Unfortunately, the citizens of Sighet think that Moishe is mad and refuse to pay attention to his warnings. They never revered or respected Moishe to begin with, because of his social status and ethnicity, which only makes it less likely for them to believe his story. The citizens also find it hard to believe that Moishe would survive such a horrific event, and they refuse to accept the reality that the Nazi Army is gradually gaining ground toward their small town. Elie mentions that most of the citizens believed that the Red Army would stall the Nazi advance and had hope that Hitler would be defeated soon. Elie even mentions that his neighbors doubted Hitler's promise to exterminate the entire Jewish nation. Unfortunately, none of the citizens heed Moishe the Beadle's warnings, and they stay in Sighet until it is too late to escape.

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In Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, the Jewish residents of Sighet do not believe Moshe the Beadle when he tells them about his brush with death at the hands of German soldiers. Though Moshe is accurate in his depiction of the Holocaust, there are two reasons why other Jews brush off his warnings.

The first reason is that Moshe is known as an eccentric figure within Sighet’s Jewish community. He is also a foreigner, and outside of Elie, no one proclaims any sadness when Moshe is deported in 1942 with other foreign Jews. As most people have no deep affinity for Moshe, they are not very likely to listen to his ranting.

The second and most important reason that the Jews of Sighet do not believe Moshe is that, in their minds, there is no way that anything like Holocaust could ever happen. The Jews that Moshe tells his story to are well-educated men and women, but they believe that in the 20th century, with its electric lights, indoor plumbing, and other miracles, no person or group would attempt to eradicate a race of people.

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The Jews of Sighet do not believe Moche the Beadle for two reasons.  First, he has always been the town's outcast; Wiesel even describes him as a clownlike figure.  Secondly, Wiesel chooses to use his family and community members' disbelief in this first chapter to foreshadow their continued disbelief throughout his memoir.  They even dismiss clear warnings from credible sources in Chapter One--they move into the ghetto, believing that their situation cannot worsen; they wear the stars, believing that it is simply a form of identification.

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