Sunday, May 28, 2006

Remembering to remember

In a new introduction for his famous book "Night" Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, reveals the motivation that prompted him to put into words the horror he experienced in the concentration camps: "I only know that without this testimony ['Night'], my life as a writer -or my life, period- would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory his crimes to be erased from human memory." (viii)

Having read the book I cannot but agree both with the gravity that Wiesel attributes to the experience in the concentration camps and the obligation he feels towards humanity to transmit the story of his family. The story that Wiesel describes in "Night" is a personal story at one level, as it describes the final days of Wiesel's father and family in the camp; at another level it can be said that it belongs to the collective memory of the jewish people and humanity more broadly. Going beyond the personal story of Wiesel, this citation highlights an important issue - remembering.

During ancient times, people did not have computers, videocameras and, in some cases, not even "paper". Yet historical events that occurred long ago have survived through myths, stories, poems, and most importantly, constitute part of our heritage. Today we can rely on our scientific methods and modern technologies to record the historical events for us- surely, when comparing our "history books" to those of our ancestors, we are better of.

However, recording history and ingraining it into one's culture are two distinct things: while the former implies diligence and acuracy in the process of "taking history down", the latter involves taking history into the heart and making it part of one's self.

With time "flying by" quickly and recent past sounding like distant times, with a multitude of events occurring concurrently at a global level, with such extremes as nationalistic interpretations or indifference leaving their own mark, how easy is to preserve "memory", not only in books but in the heart too, how easy is not to forget what really happened, not to grant "the last victory" to the enemy?


M. Atitar de la Fuente said...

Googling about “memory”, I Found this quote: “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living” Marcus Tullius Cicero.
We have a great chance for have a external memory, like computer, videocameras, and other tecnologies. We have the chance to have better books, because the testomonies are more close to the truth.

Anastasia said...

Yes.. I agree, of course I do. We have great access to information, and will have even better in the future but this is only one part of the equation, the other one is "us"- how powerful really are volumes of history if, say, no one is interested in them?

Pixie said...

I have not read this book but it surely has touched you.Remembering, even when things are recorded in history we tend to forget is so important.The suffering and death of Jewish people in the concentration camps tends to be underestimated by those who don't like them and compare them with modern Jews.Its a shame.

Nice that you are back!

Optimus said...

I was a sucker in history at school, but later I was more interested for it (as with other things I disliked at first). Personally, I am looking with awe on ancient temples, older ages, because of the feeling that they hide something so unknown and far ahead the time that we might never know. Thus, I really find important when historians or even regular people take the chance to record history. It fascinates me that some people try to record a past I was never aware of.

And still, I am not quite into the point you want to remark. I've just lost in my thoughts and wrote about my fascination (I had these thoughts with something not so relevant to the subject, when someone tried to record history of my favorite subculture "the demoscene", still so closer in years to now, and still I and people even got the history of it wrong, so fascinating to read things I didn't know about what I am into. No finally someone cares about preserving it ;)

I guess your point is that even if we have greater means for recording history, sometimes we choose to not do so? For example, some people say that history of the modern greek history is not in schoolbooks (Though perhaps history of it is written in other books, but not much have read them), cause they don't want to show much about the greek civil war, juda and other cases which don't make greek people proud :P. Others say, that there has to pass a period of time before writting modern history, because memories are still alive and there might be no objectivity and this written history could be biased. Though, being objective should be the main virtue of a historian at any time close or far from the past.

Well, there are reasons why people don't like to remember the past (and avoid or not interested recording it) but I am with you on that. I support the idea that even modern history not far from today is recorded in an as objective as possible way. Hopefully there are enough historians doing this today. Though, most of the people know history as they like to remember it. Are these the ones who define at the end which history is to be remembered? I don't know..

As for the jews, I totally agree. Some people like them, most people hate them. The history of the holocaust and also the one of the modern Israel should be recorded with pure objectivity and neither sympathy or hate imho.

Ebun said...

Just came for a visit and I noticed its a book you're talking about. I have not read but I love reading so thanks for the insight on the book.

Elpidia García said...

Mientras que la gente que vive en carne propia hechos como el Holocausto nos regale su testimonio como en "Night", podemos descansar confiados en que siempre se sabrá "lo que realmente sucedió". No importa qué tan avanzada esté la tecnología de la comunicación, quienes escriben la historia no siempre lo hacen con rigor científico y los hechos son distorsionados continuamente por intereses de muchas índoles. En contraste, el corazón nunca miente.


==> M@DD <== said...

solo pasaba por aqui y vi tu blog esta muy interesante aunke entendi super poco porq no manejo mucho el Ingles...
solo queria saludarte en invitarte a que veas de vez en cundo mi blog.

Scott Stirling said...

"Night" is one of many great and greatly disturbing firsthand Holocaust accounts. You might find these works equally engaging, as I have - "This Way to the Gas Chamber, Ladies and Gentlemen," by Thadeusz Borowski (, "Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account," by Miklos Nyiszli (recently made into a so-so movie called "The Grey Zone"), and "Man's Search for Meaning," by Viktor Frankel.

As for history, as an art in the West it began with Herodotus and was further formalized by Thucydides. Had the Persians or Spartans produced historians . . . well, history would be different. :-)

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