The Power Of Testimony

An excerpt from Introduction of Legends Of Our Time by Elie Wiesel; published in 1968, by Avon Books:

“Tell me what you are doing,” the Rebbe said in a soft voice. I told him I was writing. “Is that all?” he asked in disbelief. I said, yes, that’s all. His expression was so reproachful that I had to elaborate and explain that some writings could sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. He did not seem to understand.

I was afraid of that. If I had waited so many years before I came to see him – although I knew where he could be found – it was because I did not want to acknowledge the distance between us. I was afraid both of its existence and its absence. All the words that for twenty years I have been trying to put together, were they mine or his? I did not have the answer but, somehow, I was afraid that he did.

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“What are you writing?” the Rebbe asked. “Stories,” I said. He wanted to know what kind of stories; true stories. “About people you knew?” Yes, about people I might have known. “About things that have happened?” Yes, about things that have happened or could have happened. “But they did not?” No, not all of them did. In fact, some were invented from almost the beginning to almost the end. The Rebbe leaned forward as if to measure me up and said with more sorrow than anger: “That means you are writing lies!” I did not answer immediately. The scolded child within me had nothing to say in his defense. Yet, I had to justify myself: “Things are not that simple, Rebbe. Some events do take place but are not true; others are – although they never occurred.”

That was all I could say. Was it enough? I did not know. The Rebbe let it stand. He stared at me for a long moment until his face lit up again. He asked me to come closer; I obeyed. “Come,” he said, “Dodye Feig’s grandson should not go away empty-handed. Come and I shall give you my blessing.”

And I did not dare remind him that for so many years I have tried so hard to acquire for myself a name which needed to be blessed, too. Only after I had left him did I realize that perhaps the time has come for Dodye Feig’s grandson to take my place at the typewriter”.

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