GOD, presence of
Almost 50 years ago Elie Wiesel was a fifteen-year old prisoner in the Nazi death camp at
Buna. A cache of arms belonging to a Dutchman had been discovered at the camp. The man was
promptly shipped to Auschwitz. But he had a young servant boy, a pipel as they were
called, a child with a refined and beautiful face, unheard of in the camps. He had the
face of a sad angel. The little servant, like his Dutch master, was cruelly tortured, but
would not reveal any information. So the SS sentenced the child to death, along with two
other prisoners who had been discovered with arms.
Wiesel tells the story: One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows
rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us; machine
guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains--and one of them, the
little servant, the sad-eyed angel. The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than
usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The
head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost
calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him. This time the Lagercapo
refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him. The three victims mounted together
onto the chairs. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.
"Long live liberty!" cried the two adults. But the child was silent. "Where
is God? Where is He?" someone behind me asked. Total silence throughout the camp. On
the horizon, the sun was setting. "Bare your heads!" yelled the head of the
camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping. "Cover your heads!" Then the march
past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged.
but the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive...For more
than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony
under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed
in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I
heard the same man asking: "Where is God now?" And I heard a voice within me
answer him: "Where is He? Here He is--He is hanging here on this gallows.." That
night the soup tasted corpses.
Elie Wiesel, Night, Bantam, 1982, p. 75-6. Quoted in
W. Aldrich, When God Was Taken Captive, , Multnomah, 1989, p. 39-41.
The well-known theologian Charles Hodge wrote about his early years at Princeton: "It
was my privilege to be the pupil-assistant of Professor Joseph Henry, the illustrious
scientist. When, for the first time, electric signals were sent from point to point, the
earth itself being used for the return current, Professor Henry put me at one end of the
circuit, while he stood directing the experiments at the other. I can well remember the
wonderful care with which he arranged them. Very often, when the testing moment came, he
would raise his hand in adoring reverence and call upon me to uncover my head and worship
in silence. He would say, 'Because God is here, I am about to ask Him a question.'"