Faith in the messenger
Elie Wiesel claps as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Holocaust Museum April 23, 2012 in Washington, DC.
April 29th, 2013
12:48 PM ET

Faith in the messenger

Editor’s Note: Today marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was Elie Wiesel’s idea to make this an institution of learning rather than a simple memorial. Michael Schulder, host of the "CNN Profiles" radio show, sat down with Wiesel to talk about a range of issues, including how a sense of humor survives in so many survivors. This story, though, is about faith.

By Michael Schulder, CNN

(CNN) – “They called him Moishe the Beadle, as if his entire life he had never had a surname.”

This is the opening line of the most widely read memoir of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel’s "Night."

I had the opportunity to ask Wiesel about Moishe the Beadle recently when we sat down for an in-depth CNN Profile, which you can listen to here.

When Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize, the committee that chose him called him a messenger to mankind.

He is not the only messenger to mankind. But somehow the power of his story and his words and his character made it possible for his testimony to have a global impact.

Moishe the Beadle was a messenger, too. But the testimony he delivered was not received.

When Wiesel was a little boy growing up in the town of Sighet, Moishe was the “jack of all trades” at the local synagogue. The most menial job. The Beadle.

Moishe kept to himself. Few spoke to him. But young Eliezer Wiesel did.

Wiesel was very religious, and he often found Moishe chanting prayers. They struck up a friendship.

In 1941, Moishe and some other Jews who could not prove their nationality were deported by the government. Months later, Moishe returned.

Wiesel recounts what happened next. “When he came back, he began talking. Nobody listened to him."

Moishe said he had been taken to a forest in Galicia, Poland. What happened there? Wiesel remembered what Moishe said:

“ 'Terrible things. Jews. You don’t know what’s happening there. Jews are being killed.' He said some people have to dig their own graves. 'And I was there,' he said. He gave names. 'And I alone … came to tell the tale.' Nobody listened to him. They thought he was crazy. “

Wiesel continued: “The only one who listened was I. Not because I believed him, because I loved stories.”

Three years later, the Nazis arrived. All the Jews of Sighet were rounded up. Barbed wire was put up.

“I saw (Moishe) in the ghetto,” Wiesel said, “with the last transport. He knew where we were going. But we didn’t.”

Another messenger arrived just before the Jews of Sighet were sent to Auschwitz. “A Christian woman, Maria. Our friend and servant for years came into the ghetto.”

She pleaded with the Wiesel family. She had a hut in the nearby mountains where they could be safe. “ 'Come,' she told us. 'I’ll take care of you.' ”

Another messenger dismissed.

When Eliezer Wiesel and his family arrived at Auschwitz, the name meant nothing to them. They’d never heard of it.

“Everything was so fast – and SO well-organized. Everybody knew what to do in order to lure the victims. Everyone. Everything worked. The machinery worked.”

And then another messenger. This one, heeded.

An old prisoner came to the line, saying, “ 'they will ask you questions.' To me, he said, ‘How old are you?' ”


“ 'Say 18.'

“To my father: 'How old are you?'

“He said 48 or something."

“No,” said the old prisoner. “Say 30."

“He knew what we didn’t know,” Wiesel said. "That those who could work will live. Those who couldn’t would die.

“And then,” Wiesel said, “something strange happened to me.

"I come from a very religious background. Very religious. And all of a sudden, when I saw these hundreds and thousands of Jews coming, from all over Europe, speaking all languages, belonging to all cultures, to all conditions, men, women, children, young and old, learned and ignorant ... I had the feeling that this is a messianic event. The ultimate ingathering of exiles.

"The Messiah is coming. ... That’s what I felt.

"And who came was not the Messiah but Death as Messiah.”

The story of what happened next is so thoroughly documented, it does not need to be recounted here.

Wiesel says he retained his will to live in the death camps because his father’s life depended on the survival of his son.

Together, father and son survived Auschwitz. They survived the grueling transfer to another death camp, Buchenwald. And there they survived until his father could survive no longer.

One morning, Eliezer Wiesel woke up, and the bunk in the barracks where his father had been was occupied by another inmate.

Two months later, American soldiers liberated Buchenwald.

Elie Wiesel would survive to become a messenger, one of the first messengers whose testimony broke through into the broader public’s consciousness.

Now, on this day, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum commemorates its 20th anniversary, there are enough messengers, enough testimony, enough documentation to absorb many lifetimes of study.

And just last month, we learned something new and shocking from researchers at the Holocaust Memorial who had spent years combing through documents for evidence that others had glossed over.

They discovered that there were an additional 45,000 ghettos and concentration camps - some devoted to killing small number of people - scattered all through Nazi-occupied Europe that we never knew existed, which means even more civilians were aware than we even knew.

How does faith survive such evidence?

How could God allow such a thing, the faithful asked while it was happening and long after.

Could it be that, even though he did not look the part or act the part - even though he appeared to have lost his mind - could it be that Moishe the Beadle was a messenger of God?

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Holocaust • Judaism

soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. Apple Bush

    If everyone on this planet killed themselves it would not matter except for a few pets, but they would die or adapt and the world would be a better place.

    April 30, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  2. stephen48739

    I cannot understand what gets into people, who kill those who are different than themselves. This man who planted the two bombs in Boston, with his younger brother said that "he has no friends" and he "doesn't understand them", referring to Americans. Just because you don't understand other people, doesn't give you any right to kill them. I'll never forget watching those old black & white films the G.I.'s took of the camps. It just doesn't make any sense why some act that way.

    April 30, 2013 at 4:57 am |
    • RedskinsFan

      I know. I think about that episode of Band of Brothers when they liberate the camp. And while they are busy giving out food and water, the army doctor tells them they have to stop, because the inmates will eat themselves to death unless they are monitored back to health. When the interpreter has to tell the people they have to give the food back... one of the most heart-wrenching moments I have ever seen. I can't imagine if that had been me during the actual time and place. It's horrifying to see all that old film and realize its not a movie or a show... its historical truth. And if it doesn't horrify and sicken a person, that person has no heart. Or, that person is just as depraved as those that commited the atrocities.

      April 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  3. Carlos Chino

    Reblogged this on Carlos Chino.

    April 30, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • Creighton

      The Poles accentuate Polish suffering, the Soviets, Soviet suffering, and the modern Euro-American media conglomerate, Jewish suffering. Gee, I wonder why?

      April 30, 2013 at 4:48 am |
  4. Buddy Longsworth

    Hey, this was a great message about faith and focusing on the messenger, in this case, Elie Wiesel.
    But my question is: where are all the religion haters? The last couple of lines makes it sounds like that Moishe was a messenger of God, and therefore, implied religion. Also, faith is being discussed in this selection.
    Thus, with these ideas in mind, faith and God, where are all the religion haters that usually spew their hatred to that they don't understand (or refuse to allow others to practice)?
    Maybe if it had been a Christian religion, they would have come out in droves to write about this subject.

    April 30, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • meifumado

      Where were you yesterday when this was posted?

      April 30, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  5. Rahul

    To read the trivial and even absurd responses to this article shows just how trivial and even absurd human can be. And are. The Nazis were horrible no wonder considering how absurd humans can be. And are.

    April 30, 2013 at 12:50 am |
    • trollintraining

      yes, but this is about the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I see a mixed up priority here.

      April 30, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  6. Susan Betts

    The Germans of WWII were dreadful people, devoted to the idea of their own genetic superiority. LOL

    April 30, 2013 at 12:10 am |
    • Livilla

      Just like you

      April 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  7. MrCrewel Dude

    Faith is the message, but I am the hammer.

    April 29, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
    • Jawa of Doom

      You are the d-bag.

      April 30, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care!

      Malus Malificarum?

      April 30, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • meifumado

      Looks like you missed the nail.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  8. HeavenSent

    1 Corinthians 6:9

    April 29, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  9. Stephen Hawking is an Idiot


    April 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • meifumado

      What a boring boring song, truly horrible.

      April 30, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  10. Afraid

    We were smart enough with doctor King's help to get past racism, can you try just a little to get past "religionism"?

    April 29, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  11. Afraid

    This is what I worry about happening again to somebody's group. It could be anybody, last time it was Jewish people time before that someone else, next time who knows but it's scary to think of, but we should think of it and be sure that type of crap does not happen again.

    April 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • STFU

      have you ever been asked to help build bomb Mohammad A. Dar? Especially, your country Pakistan is very helpful to terrorist wannabes.

      April 29, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Susan Betts

      It happens everyday to the smallest among us. It's called first-trimester abortion.

      April 30, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  12. meifumado

    And you like to go down on Santa.

    April 29, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  13. Chad

    “They called him Moishe the Beadle, as if his entire life he had never had a surname.”
    This is the opening line of the most widely read memoir of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel’s "Night."

    =>one of the best books I have ever read.

    April 29, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • Pebble beach

      “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.”
      ― Elie Wiesel, Night

      April 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  14. Trance


    April 29, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • meifumado


      April 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  15. Apple Bush

    I would read this but I am doing something that matters.

    April 29, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • Numbskulls

      The holocaust DOES matter, we must not repeat it, and you basically said that the 11 million people died for nothing.

      April 29, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • Jawa of Doom

      They died for nothing. So? What do you expect us to do about it? You want special treatment? You think you are special?

      April 30, 2013 at 1:35 am |
    • Apple Bush

      I Would read these replies but I am doing something that matters.

      April 30, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  16. Honey Badger Dont Care

    P1. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a being which has every perfection.
    P2. Existance is a perfection.
    C. Therefore, the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists.

    April 29, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Existence

      Too bad the followers of the FSM cannot spell perfectly.

      April 29, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • meifumado

      I have a feeling people are being misled by FSM, Seems to me that FSM is not what he/she seems to be and is a much older god then all his/her worshipers think.

      There is only one god to worship that has noodly appendage's but they are tentacles not noodles.

      Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

      April 29, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  17. Uncouth Swain

    "Night" was a very powerful book. I highly recommend it.

    April 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Akira

      I have been wanting to read it for a while now. I'll have to pick it up soon.

      April 29, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      I would also recommend "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness" by Simon Wiesenthal.

      April 29, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Jawa of Doom

      I recommend thinking clearly. You won't get that from a book written to push someone's agenda.

      April 30, 2013 at 1:38 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      It sounds like you need to think more clearly on what you are reading or in this case not reading.

      April 30, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  18. meifumado


    April 29, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  19. Sam Yaza

    i think its time for the Holocaust museum needs to expand to cover the the Saxon Holocaust. after all Hitler was influenced by Charlemagne.

    April 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  20. Faith, hope and love

    Three vital elements when me struggle to answer questions about 'evil'

    April 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Faith, hope and love


      April 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • .

      You pervert every story with your nonsense, Hinduphobe.

      April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.