Elie Weisel Cons the World
July 30, 2013
“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Introduction: In Elie Wiesel’s book Night, we find the scenario and characters changing often, and in many cases, with little rhyme or reason that is apparent to the reader. One easily concludes that, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is a work of absurdity.
In Lewis Carroll’s classic, nothing makes sense because nothing has to make sense – the intention was to be a “childish” type of foolishness or make-believe from the start. It is an example of literary nonsense1 genre. Interestingly, we find similar examples of nonsense and absurdity in many of the stories and writings of self-proclaimed “holocaust survivors” – and we put Elie Wiesel into this category. This is why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is such a good fit for a parody of Elie Wiesel’s Night.
Cast of Characters:
Elie = Elie Wiesel
White Rabbit = Ken Waltzer
Father = no such person has been found
The King and Queen of Hearts = SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV)
The Duchess = Hilda Wiesel
The Cheshire Cat = Carolyn Yeager
The March Hare = Antonin Kalina, Czech communist block leader
The (Mad) Hatter = Gustav Schiller, Polish Jew block leader
Elie is quite bored one warm afternoon at the Jewish orphan’s mansion in France where he lives. This is not unusual for Elie, who has absolutely nothing to do all day but play chess or study the Talmud or other holy texts of which he is known to be almost fanatically fond. Today, though, no one was around the chess table that had been set up outdoors under a large tree, and Elie becomes a bit dreamy, maybe even sleepy. He is suddenly brought wide awake again when he sees a White Rabbit run by, looking at its pocket watch and muttering “Oh dear, oh dear, I’m going to be late!”
Elie, having never heard a rabbit speak to itself before, let alone have a pocket watch, impulsively runs after the comical creature right into a large rabbit hole. He feels himself slowly falling a long distance before he comes to solid ground. When he does, an unrecognizable landscape of trees, shrubs and creatures such as he has never seen before greets his blinking eyes, and a feeling of being an innocent young girl in an enchanted garden comes over him.
Before he can wonder too much at this, he catches sight of the White Rabbit again and follows him until he is stopped by a barbed wire fence. Standing before it, just the thought of how he might squeeze through the wires to the other side as the rabbit did causes him to shrink to just the right size to step through. As he does—suddenly—he is in a closed railway car with many other people, Jews like himself.
Elie is so unhappy at this turn of events he begins to cry. He cries so much and so hard his tears flood the rail car, making all the others inside very angry, including his own late father whom now, however, seems to be very much alive. As the water made up of Elie’s tears rises closer to the top of the boxcar, the door opens and the inhabitants swim out with the rushing flood.
Appearing for all the world like a catch of wet fish flapping on the platform, the unfortunates find themselves being questioned by a large Caterpillar-looking officer seated on a high stool smoking a hookah. But not one of them is able to answer the officer’s questions as to the particulars of who they are.
“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The Camp Buchenland
The hookah-smoking officer tires of their inability to name themselves and, pointing in a certain direction, tells them to march that way to a camp where they will get dry clothes. Once there, the group lines up in an open assembly area and is told they are in Buchenland, the kingdom of the Queen of Hearts who, in spite of her kindly-sounding name, gives orders that must be obeyed. Ordered to now go to the showers where they would also receive the promised new clothing, Elie and Father already fail to obey.
The entrance to the showers is crowded with pushing, shoving people. Father sits down on the ground outside, “I can’t go on anymore; I’ll wait here until we can go into the showers.” As the two lose themselves in an argument over the subject of impending death, the electric lights go out and a loudspeaker commands that all must now be in their assigned barracks.
In haste, Elie follows a crowd into a nearby barracks, where, still unshowered, he falls to the floor and sinks into a dreamless sleep. It is only in the morning that he realizes he is alone; he must have lost his father in the rush to the barracks, and then forgotten about him! Going in search, he wanders about the camp for hours, unmolested by any officers or guards of the Kingdom. Happening upon a place where coffee is being distributed, he gets in line for a cup and magically hears the voice of his father calling to him.
From then on, for the next 7 days (as well as days can be counted in Buchenland), Elie keeps coming back to his father, looking after him in a rather haphazard fashion. Father is not well, not well at all, and Elie, “for a ration of bread,” is able to secure a cot next to his father in the barracks.(2) But a few days later, Elie is sleeping on the upper bunk, above his father, because of his (Elie’s) bandaged foot.(3)
The time comes that Father passes his last breath in his bunk during the middle of the night. According to Elie’s reckoning, it is February 8th-9th, 1945. But elsewhere, Elie states his father died on the night of January 28-29, and again on the 18-19 of Shevat, 5705, which corresponds to February 1st.(4) Elie is both secretly relieved and personally devastated over the loss of Father and blames it on the cruelty of the officials of the Kingdom of Buchenland, calling it murder.
The Queen of Hearts learns about young Elie’s defamations against her health care system, and at the same time the multiple death dates he asserts for his father, and proclaims with great indignation that this cannot be allowed in her Kingdom. The King agrees and they summon the culprit to their presence. After listening to Elie’s disconnected narrative of how he came to be in Buchenland and how he lost his father, she loses patience with the constantly changing versions of his story and shouts “Off with his head!”