The Journey of a Single Signature: Elie Wiesel

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 20 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

I’ve never been to Auschwitz, but my daughter Mallory says her travel group was rendered speechless for hours after they visited 12 years ago. They’d all had to regain their composure before being able to talk again. After reading Night by Elie Wiesel and watching the documentary of Oprah Winfrey going back to Auschwitz with him years later, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to have stood mere inches from the clothes, shoes, and other precious belongings – including teeth – of the innocent people who were taken there, separated from their loved ones, and killed at the hands of merciless monsters.

Mallory and her travel companions visiting Auschwitz

On a morning that started like any other, I was standing in the hallway of the high school preparing for a meeting when an English teacher shared that she had been cleaning off her bookshelves and discovered a book that piqued her interest. Upon further examination, she found that the book, A Beggar in Jerusalem, was one of 250 copies signed by Elie Wiesel himself.

A Beggar in Jerusalem by Elie Wiesel
Book signed by Elie Wiesel

As I beheld the signature, I was instantly transported to all the harrowing moments of Night – from the prophetic words of Moshe the Beadle that I reflect on more frequently than I care to admit, to the marches from the ghettos, from the cattle cars and the fighting over a scrap of bread on the train to the screaming of Madame Schachter, from the machine gun killings of infants used as target practice to the hanging of the young boy on the gallows, from the starving man who was shot crawling to the soup pot to the sickness that overtakes Elie’s father, from the image in the mirror where Elie sees the corpse staring back at him to that iconic photograph of him among the crowded, starving men in the wooden bunks. That one signature took me to all of those moments at once as I gazed with heartbroken sorrow at the ink there on the page, knowing the hand that signed the book had lived through those terrible times.

A trip is not a prerequisite for a journey, and journeys like these catch us off-guard. This one came out of nowhere and punched me in the gut. I had to pull myself back together quickly and move on with my morning. I’m glad we are past those times, I told myself. Nothing like this would happen today. The Moshe the Beadles of our world would warn us.

I arrived home and stopped at the mailbox, excited that my weekly copy of The New Yorker had arrived. Then I studied the image on the front cover.

I wept.

The cover of The New Yorker, Week of March 21, 2022

John 11:35 

Jesus wept.

12 Replies to “The Journey of a Single Signature: Elie Wiesel”

  1. If only every person in this world could read your slice and could have empathy for those that suffered and learn from the past our world would be such a peaceful place. Not what it is today. I carry these same thoughts about the holocaust inside me every day. I saw films as a young girl in Hebrew school that haunt me. I don’t understand war or how people, leaders, could have so little care for human life. How is so much greed and hate possible. Eli and so many others thank goodness were brave enough, and somehow stayed alive to be able to tell their stories so the world would not be allowed to forget. A signature. That’s all it took to bring you down this path….you wrote a magnificent slice. This should be published somewhere for people to read and learn from!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The Motherland” – title of the painting on the cover. I weep too, Kim. Again I marvel at all your connective threads here. They demand that we recognize them. Wiesel’s signature and the return of moments… my father-in-law (my husband’s stepfather) saw Auschwitz just after liberation. He couldn’t find words for his horror, forty years later.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “A trip is not a prerequisite for a journey” and your trip back in time, prompted by Elie Wiesel’s signature was both profound and timely. As I watch a war unfolding in Ukraine, I’m reminded of the horrors I’ve read about in the many World War II historical fiction books I’ve read. We can’t hide from the past or present. Your post is an important one. From a writer’s perspective, I love the way you took us through your day, ending with the front page of a current publication. I’ll be rereading Elie Wiesel as well as this slice. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is amazing what humans are able to do, both in hate and in love. The death camps, brutality and war, in general on the one hand. Your entry and Elie Wiesel’s words on the other. One side that makes us cover our eyes and the other that opens them. I’m grateful that you wrote this, sorry that it had to be written.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kim, sometimes the journeys our minds take us on through the experience of others’ journeys isre more powerful. I’ve been thinking about Auschwitz today, too, and hope to write about that soon. z signatures also play in my memory. “It happened before. It can happen again.” I think about this every day these past months and years.

    Liked by 1 person

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