Auschwitz: “Hell”​ on Earth

Elie Wiesel

For Elie Wiesel, faith and hope are subjective powers, issuing from a person’s inner life, his or her choices in responding to life’s adversities. That is to say, faith and hope are not only directed to an afterlife but also to living in the here-and-now, this life. In particular, faith and hope are forms of suicide prevention, because they are necessary for human survival, for staying alive, for choosing to live rather than die, especially during the most inconceivable conditions of suffering, such as being in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

Elie Wiesel often defined “hell” with one word — Auschwitz. He could do that, I suppose, because he himself lived through it, being a survivor of Auschwitz. He wrote a book about it, Night, which chronicled his experiences of suffering, depression, hopelessness, despair, hunger, dehydration, starvation, emaciation, near-encounters with death and the witness of countless murders of Jews by the Nazis.

Wiesel remembered the most humane words which were spoken by a Polish man to the Jewish men upon their arrival at Auschwitz:

“Comrades, you are now in the concentration camp Auschwitz. Ahead of you lies a long road paved with suffering. Don’t lose hope. You have already eluded the worst danger: the selection. Therefore, muster your strength and keep your faith. We shall see the day of liberation. Have faith in life, a thousand times faith. By driving out despair, you will move away from death.”

For Wiesel, faith and hope did not necessarily prove that the prisoners in the Auschwitz would be released, that their future would be better. However, without faith and hope, suffering can become intolerable, leading a person to despair, even suicidal ideation or suicide itself. It is, then, psychologically speaking, better to have faith in the future than to give up on life. Similarly, it is better to hope, even hoping against hope, than to live in a state of despair.


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