Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Wiesel has written many novels, many stories, but they all concern one story, the dominant story of the twentieth century: the Holocaust. A survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Wiesel has dedicated himself to being a witness, saying, “I knew that anyone who remained alive had to become a storyteller, a messenger, had to speak up.” Some of the most powerful scenes in the book deal directly with the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews of Europe: the machine-gunning of a small Jewish community; David’s narrow escape from a French mob that then turns its fury on the gentile woman who has saved his life.

Even the saga of David and Katriel, set in 1967, is in fact about the Holocaust. The pact that David and Katriel make is the same Wiesel made with his mother and sister, who were gassed at Auschwitz, with his father, whom he watched die at Buchenwald, and with six million of his coreligionists who perished. It is the promise to remember and remind the world of the existence of those who no longer can speak for themselves. “The way to fight death is to create life,” Katriel’s father says. One does so by overcoming silence, by speaking out. If Katriel were dead, David believes that he could revive him by telling his story.

Just before he disappears, Katriel stands with David in front of the Wailing Wall on the Temple Mount. Katriel tells David to follow the ancient custom of writing a wish on a piece of paper and then inserting it among...

(The entire section is 430 words.)