The Accident (Le Jour)

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Novel by Elie Wiesel, 1961

Elie Wiesel's The Accident (1961) is a possibly autobiographical account of being hit by a car. The narrator slips into stream of consciousness as he vacillates between death and life, providing the accident victim with bizarre, surrealistic impressions as he remembers his grandmother and his father, who perished in the Holocaust. The trauma of the Holocaust haunts him: "Shame tortures not the executioners but their victims."

Against this backdrop, the narrator remembers the humanity of his physician, Paul Russel: "Each prey torn away from death made him happy as if he had won a universal victory." The physician admonishes the narrator: "During the operation. You never helped me. Not once. You abandoned me. I had to wage the fight alone, all alone. Worse. You were on the other side, against me, on the side of the enemy." The Holocaust experience has sapped the narrator of his ability to fight near-death experiences. The fact that he endured the Holocaust has made his outlook on life bleak.

He ruminates on his experiences in the Holocaust as he sits in his hospital bed in New York City:

They were about ten in the bunker. Night after night they could hear the German police dogs looking through the ruins for Jews hiding in their underground shelters. Schmuel and the others were living on practically no water or bread, on hardly any air. They were holding out. They knew that there, down below in their narrow jail, they were free; above, death was waiting for them. One night a disaster nearly occurred. It was Golda's fault. She had taken her child with her. A baby, a few months old. He began to cry, thus endangering the lives of all. Golda was trying to quiet him, to make him sleep. To no avail. That's when the others, including Golda herself, turned to Shmuel and told him: "Make him shut up. Take care of him, you whose job it is to slaughter chickens. You will be able to do it without making him suffer too much."

This passage explains how experiencing the grim situational ethics of the Holocaust lessened the ability to fight for his life when he is injured in an automobile accident.

As he continues to convalesce in the hospital, he ruminates about the prostitute Sarah, whom he met in Paris: "Maybe I had only lived for this meeting, I thought. For this meeting with a prostitute who preserved within her a trace of innocence, like madmen who in the midst of their madness hold on to a trace of their lucidity." The Holocaust survivor relates to this prostitute who had been impressed into service in a military brothel at the age of 12 because she, too, had suffered physical abuse and emotional trauma.

—Peter R. Erspamer

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The Accident (Le Jour)

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