Reviewed by Donald J. MOORE, Department of Theology, Fordham University, BRONX NY 10458
This book is somewhat misleading in its bibliographical information. It is more a book authored by Metz and Wiesel, consisting of two lengthy interviews edited by Schuster and Boschert-Kimmig. Be that as it may, what we have are the reflections of two of the dominant religious thinkers of the last half-century. Both men were born in Europe a few months apart, but in circumstances that placed one within the nation which perpetrated the Holocaust and the other in the race marked for extermination in the Holocaust.
The interview with Metz covers a wide variety of topics and is useful for anyone who is looking for a brief overview of the many important themes that occupied his theological thought. While some of these pages touch on the profound impact of the Holocaust on M's theology, I would not call it the dominant theme of the interview, and to that extent the reader may be disappointed.
M recalls what may well have been the critical experience of his life. As a 16 year old he was inducted into the military. One morning after a night at headquarters, he returned to his company to find nothing but death everywhere; a "soundless cry" burned itself into his memory. "I suspect that all my childhood dreams, as well as what people call 'childlike trust,' disintegrated in that soundless cry." (p.44) One notices the close parallel with the 15 year old Elie Wiesel in his Night when he first witnesses the flames of Auschwitz "Never shall I forget that night which consumed my faith forever."
M reflects on the long absence of Auschwitz from Christian theology in the post-war period. He attributes this to the horror of Auschwitz which left humankind speechless, demanding a "moratorium on speaking." In the same way he understands why so many after the war claimed to know nothing of the Shoah; its monstrosity was simply unimaginable. That is why we need an "anamnestic culture", the gift to us of the Jewish spirit. What is at stake through anamnesis is not only the survival of Judaism and Christianity, but of humanity itself. Rather than leading to traditionalism or fundamentalism, anamnesis properly understood calls the Church and humankind to continual reformation.
The Shoah demands a revision of Christian theology. We know too little of the Jew Jesus and of the way Christian origins are "woven into Jewish history." Our theological reflections on Auschwitz should raise questions not only about "where was God?" but perhaps more importantly "where was humanity?" Very few see the connection between Auschwitz and the present distrust of the "humanities", the "no-confidence" vote in the human person. This might be where M sees the need of the Church: it embodies a hope that is "so sweeping and so improbable" that no one dare hope it for oneself.
In contrast, the interview with Wiesel is almost exclusively on the Holocaust and its awesome impact on his life and writing. Quite simply put Auschwitz forces W to question everything from God to faith to humankind. The result can also be simply put: we must believe, despite everything.
We must first of all believe in human beings no matter what human beings have done. It is his Judaism that enables W to be human (just as another's faith should enable him/her to be human). Jews are obsessed with the idea of being human and of sharing their humanity. The idea of the human died at Auschwitz, but we can start over again. Something has changed since "the event." More voices are being raised against injustice, but it is not enough. The struggle to humanize our world is never ending.
Perhaps the major question faced by W over the years, and one shared by many of his readers: can one still believe in God after Auschwitz? W is quite explicit on this point. One can be angry with God, one can protest against God, one can demand justice from God, but W sees all of this as a profession of faith in God, not a denial of God. Certainly we have difficulties with God, but God also has difficulties with us. W might find himself in a position against God, but never without God. . "It was not easy to keep faith. Nevertheless, I can say that, despite all the difficulties and obstacles, I have never abandoned God." (91) After the Shoah, no matter where we turn, we are surrounded by the same dark mystery. This is precisely why we must have faith. "Even if we find no faith we must raise it up in the hope that one day we will understand why ...." (95)
W leaves us with a superb testimony of a faith that is hewn out of silence, suffering, death, absurdity. This alone makes this small work eminently worth reading.