Dawn (L'aube)

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DAWN (L'Aube)

Novel by Elie Wiesel, 1960

In Elie Wiesel's Night he writes about Jews reacting to persecution and threats to their existence with a kind of defensive amnesia—a refusal to believe the horrors confronting them combined with a passive inaction. One example of this is when Wiesel's cousin urges Elie's father, Chlomo Wiesel, to try to escape from the ghetto on the eve of deportation to Auschwitz and he refuses to do so. Another example of this defensive amnesia is when Moché the Beadle survives a mass killing at the hands of the Nazis and the Jews of Sighet refuse to believe him when he comes to warn them.

Wiesel wrote Dawn (1961; L'Aube, 1960) to signal that Jews were no longer willing to accept threats to their security with an impassive defensive amnesia but had, in fact, become very militant in defense of their vital interests. The novel takes place in 1945, when Jewish settlers were fighting the British in order to erect a Jewish homeland in Israel/Palestine (which happened in 1948.)

The protagonist Elisha is an 18-year-old survivor of Buchenwald who, after living in Paris, agrees to go to Israel as a member of a militant organization fighting the British. The British have decided to hang one of the organization's leading members, David ben Moshe, and Elisha is assigned to kill an English hostage, Captain John Dawson, in retaliation.

Elisha's killing of John Dawson is done without anger or hatred or any vendetta whatsoever against the British officer but with deep sorrow that Elisha tries to reinterpret as hatred. Indeed, his decision to go through with the killing causes him inner turmoil: "I didn't hate him at all, but I wanted to hate him. That would have made it all very easy. Hate—like faith or love or war—justifies everything."

Elisha's thoughts as he is contemplating the execution of John Dawson signify a transition from the defensive amnesia of the Jews who were sent to the concentration camps to the militant Jews of Palestine: "Without hate, everything that my comrades and I were doing would be in vain. Without hate we could not hope to obtain victory. Why do I try to hate you, John Dawson? Because my people have never known how to hate. Their tragedy, throughout the ages, has stemmed from their inability to hate those who have humiliated and from time to time exterminated them." With this reflection, Wiesel signi-fies that pacifism is not a part of the Jewish future, particularly not the Jewish future in Israel, because of what Jews suffered during the Holocaust. The Jews of Israel continue to be haunted by the grim situational ethics of the Holocaust as they struggle to make the Jewish homeland a viable place to live.

—Peter R. Erspamer