It is an amazing thing to feel safe in our homes and communities. A while back I was reading a novel about the Lost Boys of Sudan, What Is the What, by Dave Eggers. The story stirred up questions in my heart. What would it feel like, I wondered, to have marauders showing up in your village, shooting people, burning houses, assaulting women and children? What would it feel like to lose your whole family, and your whole village?
When the death camps of the Nazis were discovered after World War Two, people swore, “Never again!” Yet, genocide continues in our day. Bosnia, Rwanda, southern Sudan, Darfur.
We asked ourselves, “How could someone fly a plane into a building with thousands of innocent people inside? How could someone massacre thousands of women and children of their own country?” Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz, spoke of the incredulity of his village of Sighet in Transylvania in the months leading up to their deportation to the camps.
One man of the village had been taken away earlier and managed to escape, returning with terrible news. The Gestapo had forced the Jewish prisoners to dig huge graves, and then slaughtered the prisoners. “Each one had to go up to the hole and present his neck.” The villagers refused to believe the man. How could such a thing even be imagined? Right up to the moment when they themselves arrived at Birkenau, they clung to the impossibility of such a horror. Most of us feel incredulous in the face of evil.
Elie Wiesel wrote,
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night… Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever… which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust…
I have never had to face personally the horrors described by Wiesel or by the Lost Boys of Sudan. Am I willing to listen to their stories and the stories of others who have encountered evil? Am I willing to let go of my own incredulity to face up to the reality of evil? And what about those of us do experience such horror? How do we make sense of evil in the world? Where does it come from, and what can we do about it?
Elie Wiesel quotes are from Night.