The study of mass emergencies, especially in recent decades, has attracted the attention of numerous scholars who have examined the impact and processing of trauma by survivors through different disciplinary methodologies. Prof. Fausto Greco focused on these themes during the seminar The memory of the saved. Wiesel and Levi in the face of the oppressors, which was held online on 7th December 2020.
The scholar focused his attention on the relationship between the oppressed and oppressors in the post-war period, retracing the vast literature of Elie Wiesel, protagonist and witness of the great genocide of the Jews. In his numerous memoirs on the Shoah, published between 1958 and 2011, Wiesel, in fact, describes his dramatic experiences inside the extermination camps adopting an autobiographical approach. Particularly, in the novel The Night (published in 1958 and translated into 30 languages, the author highlights the contrast between his childhood spent peacefully in Sighetu Marmației, a village in present day Romania, then part of the Hungarian territory, and his brutal deportation to Auschwitz with his family, which took place in 1944 when he was only sixteen. In a kind of stream of consciousness, Wiesel retraces the brutality and barbarism he was forced to witness during his internment.
A central point in the various writings of Wiesel is the polemical reference to God. Faced with this apocalyptic scenario, Wiesel, in fact, begins to doubt his faith, which was solid up to that moment. It is impossible for the author to continue to pray and thank God for his life granted and for every daily aspect since God seems completely indifferent to the destruction and violation of the rights of humanity. Another constant in Wiesel’s literature is the feeling of revenge nurtured towards the Kapo responsible for the death of his father, who was killed in front of his son while he, terrified, watched motionless. Another predominant theme is the sense of guilt, both as an individual – in relation to is father for not having saved him from the brutality of his aggressor – and collective, which Wiesel attributes to all the victims of the holocaust. The author, in fact, emphasizes how the great evil of the Nazi system was that of having generated in the survivors of the concentration camps a much deeper trauma than that developed during other catastrophic events. Like the other ex-deportees, Wiesel, in fact, claims to have come to accuse himself, in the belief that he deserved the holocaust for having led a dishonorable life, even to the extent of being worthy of divine punishment.
Thus, knowledge of Wiesel’s intellectual background and education is fundamental to an understanding of his testimony, which today is among the best known together with that of Primo Levi. However, his reconstruction of events, although undoubtedly objective, is rich in subjective content and references, which derive from the experience of the individual, and which, associated with similar events experienced also in other parts of the world and in other historical periods, makes his memoir an important source for the reconstruction and processing of trauma.