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<anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">Last night I saw my father in a dream. His unshaven face was the same as ever, its expression frozen, but his clothing changed from moment to moment--from his Shabbat suit to the striped rags of the damned and back again. Where had he come from? From what landscape had he escaped? Who sent him? I can't recall if I asked. All I remember is how sad he looked, and how resigned. I could see by the way his lips were moving that he wanted to tell me something, but no sound came. Then all at once, in my sleep--or was it in his?--I suddenly doubted my own senses. Was this really my father? I was no longer sure. In dreams all certainties are blurred and dimmed. Dawn and dusk, reality and fantasy, merge. And yet it was my father who appeared to me last night. Bearing a message? Or was it a warning? I awoke drenched with sweat, my heart pounding. A terrifying idea crossed my mind: that he had come for me. ### I never really knew my father. It hurts to admit that, but it would hurt him even more if I deluded myself. The truth is I knew little of the man I loved most in the world, the man whose merest glance could stir me. What was the secret of his inner life? What was the secret of his inner life? What was he thinking as he stared in silence at some far-off, invisible point in space? Why did he conceal his cares and disappointments from me? Because I was too young, or because he thought me incapable (or worse) of comprehending them? I wonder whether other sons face this same problem. Do they know their fathers as someone other than the authoritarian, omniscient figure who leaves in the morning and returns in the evening, bringing bread and wine to the table? As a child and adolescent I saw him rarely. Carelessly dressed, often preoccupied but always friendly, he spent the week in his little grocery store--where he enjoyed and chatted with customers as much as selling them things--and at the community offices where he quietly worked to assist prisoners and refugees threatened with expulsion. Sighet was a typical shtetl, a sanctuary for Jews, in this case since 1640, when, according to historians, refugees began arriving from Ukraine, fleeing the pogroms and persecutions of the reign of Bogdan Khmelnitski. Still, in 1690 the local populace demanded that the authorities resisted, even then there must have been men like my father to protect our community. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was the only day I spent with him. In Sighet, Shabbat began on Friday afternoon. Shops closed well before sundown, stragglers and latecomers having been admonished by rabbinical emissaries and inspectors: "Let's go, it's late, time to close up! Shabbat is coming!" And woe to him who disobeyed. After the ritual bath we would walk to services, dressed for the occasion. Sometimes my father would take my hand, as though to protect me, as we passed the nearby police station or the central prison on the main square. I liked it when he did that, and I like to remember it now. I felt reassured, content. Bound to me, he belonged to me. We formed a bloc. But if a fellow worshipper joined us, my suddenly useless hand was returned to me. Did my father have any idea how much that hurt? I felt abandoned, even rejected, and after that it was never the same. I would have loved to have had a real conversation with my father, heart to heart, to have spoken to him openly of things serious and frivolous. But no--at that age everything seems serious. I would have liked to have told him of my nighttime anguish, and of my fear of the dead who, I was sure, left their tombs at midnight to pray in the great synagogue--and heaven help the passerby who failed to heed their call to come and recite the customary blessings before the reading of the Torah. I would have told my father about my poverty-stricken friends and classmates, whose hunger made me feel guilty. I thought of myself as rich and unworthy, naïvely ascribing great virtue to poverty. Deep down, I was jealous of the poor. To paraphrase the great Yiddish humorist Sholem Aleichem, I would have given anything for a tiny taste of misery. Yes, I would have loved to have discussed all this with my father. Sometimes I even envied Isaac, who was alone with his father when they climbed Mount Moriah. God alone could have known then that there would come a time when he and I would walk together toward a solitude and an altar of another dimension, and that, unlike in the Bible story, only the son would come back, leaving his father behind with the shadows. I admired him, feared him, and loved him intensely. He, in turn, genuinely loved all people--the weak, the needy, even the madmen. He enjoyed listening to them as they laughed, sang, wept, and chattered with birds they alone could see. Beggars were drawn to him, and he never failed to invite them to share our Sabbath meal, "The Talmud seeks to convince us that poverty is the lot of the Jews," one of them once said to him. "But how is that possible? Poverty is ugly; it begets ugliness." And my father nodded as if to say, You who are poor know better than the Talmud what poverty is. #### Excerpted from All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs by Elie Wiesel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. 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Library Journal Review
Novelist, Nobel Peace laureate, and Holocaust survivor Wiesel offers here his long-awaited memoirs. He begins with his boyhood in the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe and his uprooting and transport by cattle car to the barbed wire infernos of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Here Wiesel describes the horror of being among Jews bound for the death camps as the war was drawing to a close. Concluding this portion of the memoir is a moving meditation on the courage to believe when one is in the shadow of the Holocaust. He describes in following chapters his schooling in postwar France, his decision to become a journalist, and his travels to Israel and throughout the world, including a moving return to the Romanian village of his boyhood. At one point in the book, Wiesel reflects on the central dilemma of writing about the Holocaust: mere words cannot portray the tragedy, yet the writer who has experienced it must write so that others will remember. An exquisite book, recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/95.]Mark Weber, Kent State Univ. Lib., Ohio (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.