To Remain Silent And Indifferent Is The Greatest Sin Of All

Often in life, I have reflected on the phenomenon of dark nights of the soul [1] , and so I was struck this evening when I looked at trending topics on Twitter and saw Elie Wiesel and then clicked to find that he had died today.  From time to time I have pondered the life of Elie Wiesel [2], and his fame as a result of speaking out against the context of sin that led to the implementation of Hitler’s Final Solution.  He sought to write his own life story and to speak as a way of reminding people, some of whom did not wish to remember, how people could be indifferent to the genocidal hostility of wicked dictators and willingly participate in such evil themselves without feeling any qualms or bitterness of heart.

I became familiar with Elie Wiesel first because of his short book Night.  In the eighth grade, I had to read the book as part of my English class.  Often it can be a bit of a chore to read books because one has to read them, as they are books considered important but are not books that one would automatically read.  I am not sure that I would have read the book, but as I read other books in Shoah studies, it is possible that would have picked up the book to read simply because it sounded interesting.  After all, there are enough books that I have read over the course of my life because they sounded interesting whether I had heard of them or their authors before or not, but in this particular case I had to read the book and ended up finding a great deal of interest in the book, such as the darkness that it was possible for people to have in their hearts and the resilience of people despite the horrors of their circumstances.  One can find nobility even in memoirs of immense darkness.

I have pondered the extent of the effect of the books that I have read on my own personality and character.  There is little doubt that the book encouraged me to read memoirs of difficult lives, and that it also encouraged my reading into the Shoah.  I am not sure, ultimately, if this has been a good thing or a bad thing, to encourage my reading about other people with difficult lives or about reading some of the worst tragedies known to mankind.  Being a somewhat melancholy person, I am sometimes concerned that it is not the best to encourage my melancholy and gloomy nature through my reading any more than it is already present without any encouragement whatsoever.  I do think, on balance, though, that it has fueled my own understanding of the broad span of evil and wickedness and also my empathy to others who have suffered because of the evil that lurks within the hearts of people.  Even if these matters have created some difficulties in my own personal life, I consider it far better to be motivated to empathy than it is to be indifferent to the suffering of others.

And Elie Wiesel’s hostility to silence and indifference was profound.  He considered it the greatest sin.  It might be a bit tiresome that I talk about silence so often, and my hostility to it as well, and certainly not all that much fun to people who struggle with communication for one reason or another.  In Wiesel’s case, his hostility to silence was a matter of life and death.  It is one thing if one struggles, as all of us struggle, with communication, with feeling and showing the proper respect for others and an interest in their lives.  It is another if silence is a refusal to speak out against great evil when large numbers of people are dying simply for having run afoul of a crazy dictator.  We might think that we are the sort of people who would be too humane and too concerned about the well-being of others to let such evil go by unremarked and unlamented, but it is the little deeds that demonstrate our character in large and important matters.  The “Final Solution” was not the first time that anti-Semitism had reared its ugly head in Europe, nor was it only a problem in Germany.  The United States had anti-Jewish quotas to keep Jews from going to universities above a certain amount, because their test scores and general academic aptitude was higher than that of competing groups, and would not open borders to political refugees fleeing from Hitler’s increasing wrath and hostility against them.  Perhaps many people struggle with the late Elie Wiesel’s comments because it forces them to come face to face with their own indifference to the well-being of others, whether their neighbors or their enemies.  To hate others is wrong, but at least if we hate others we care about them in some fashion.  To be indifferent is to commit ourselves to not speaking out in their defense, not lifting up our hand or going to any trouble to care at all.  And that is a far greater evil, an evil that we should not harbor in our hearts towards anyone else.  There is too much brokenness and trouble in this world for us to be able to harden our hearts against others without facing some future repercussions or divine judgment.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to To Remain Silent And Indifferent Is The Greatest Sin Of All

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