Passionate and fierce, this story of a father's legacy to his son revisits some of the most dramatic events of our century, and confirms yet again Elie Wiesel's stature as "a writer of the highest moral imagination" (San Francisco Chronicle).
About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:September 30, 1928
Place of Birth:Sighet, Romania
Read an Excerpt
Grisha, my son,
I am interrupting my Testament to write you this letter. When you read it, you will be old enough to understand it and me. But will you read it? Will you receive it? I fear not. Like all the writings of prisoners it will rot in the secret archives. And yet . . . something in me tells me that a testament is never lost. Even if nobody reads it, its content is transmitted. The call of the dying will be here; if not today, then tomorrow. All our actions are inscribed in the great Book of Creation: that is the very essence of the noble tradition of Judaism, and I entrust it to you.
I am writing you because I’m about to die. When? I don’t know. One month from now, perhaps six. As soon as I shall have finished this Testament? I cannot answer that question.
It’s night, but I don’t know whether the darkness is in myself or outside. The naked bulb blinds me. The jailer will soon open the peephole. I recognize his step. I’m not afraid of him. I enjoy certain privileges: I can write as much as I like, and whenever I life. And what I like. I’m a free man.
I try to imagine you in five or ten years. What kind of man will you be when you reach my age: What will you know of the interrogations and tortures that have haunted your father?
I see you, my son, as I see my father. I see you both as in a dream, and the dream is real. My voice calls your and his, even if only to tell the world of its ugliness, even if only to cry out together for help, to mourn together the death of hope and sing together the death of Death.
I am your father, Grisha. It is my duty to give you instruction and counsel. Where can I draw them from? I haven’t made such a success of my life that I can arrogate to myself the right to guide yours. In spite of my experience with people I don’t know how to save them or awaken them; I even wonder whether they wish to be saved or awakened. In spite of everything I was able to learn—and I’ve learned a lot—I don’t know the answers that will have to be given to the grave, fundamental questions that concern human beings. The individual facing the future, facing his fellow man, had no chance whatsoever of survival. All that remains is faith. God. As a source of questioning I would gladly accept Him: but what He requires is affirmation, and there I draw the line. And yet. My father and his father believed in God: I envy them. I tell you so you will know: I envy them their pure faith, I who have never envied anyone anything.
Perhaps you will find a way to read my poems; they are a kind of spiritual biography. No, that’s too pretentious. A poetic biography? It’s not that either. Songs—they’re simply songs offered to my father, whom I had seen in a dream. Among the most recent is one I intend to revise in my mind. Its title is both naïve and ironic: “Life Is a Poem.” Life is not a poem. I do not know what life is, and I shall die without knowing.
My father, whose name you bear, knew. But he is dead. That is why I can only say to you—remember that he knew what his son does not.
I have tried. If I have time, I’ll tell you how. Let me at least tell you this: Don’t follow the path I took, it doesn’t lead to truth. Truth, for a Jew, is to dwell among his brothers. Link your destiny to that of your people; otherwise you will surely reach an impasse.
Not that I am ashamed of having believed in the Revolution. It did give hope to the hungry, persecuted masses. But seeing what it has become, I no longer believe in it. The great upheavals of history, its dramatic accelerations . . . all things considered, I prefer mystics to politicians.
I am going to die within a month, a year, and I should like to go on living. With you and for you. To have you meet the characters who are sharing my wait in this cell of mine.
I must tell you that in my Testament I did plead guilty. Yes, guilty. But not to what I take to be the meaning of the charge. On the contrary: guilty of not having lived as my father did. That, my son, is the irony: I lived a Communist and I die a Jew.
The tempest has swept over us and people are no longer what they were. I have grown up, matured. I walked through the forest and lost my way. It’s too late to go back. Life is like that—going back is impossible.