my Christian friends didn’t believe innJewish valor. . . . But I also knew, innmy heart, that they were wrong.” Indeednthey were. When the nazis triednto destroy the Warsaw ghetto in 1943,nEisner was there. They “entered thenghetto in their usual way, firing gunsnin the air and screaming for all Jews toncome out of their buildings.” Eisnernadds proudly, “But we weren’t the usualnJews.” After repeated invasions failed,nthe nazis finally could “conquer” thenghetto only by leveling it with artillerynfire.nHisner himself is no “usual” man.nHis courage did not depend on comrades.nAt Budzyn, the second of fournconcentration camps he endured, henescaped alone, then faced punishmentnalone after his recapture. The commandantnbeat him with a whip; “he wantednme on the ground at his feet.” Eisnernrefused to fall. Eventually, the commandantnexhausted himself, but Eisnern”straightened back to attention.”nI felt the world was crushing me. Thensky was falling like a shattered mirrornon my face. But I stood.nSurvival, both as a Jew among Jews andnas an individual, obsessed Eisner, butnsurvival finally served not only the willnto live, the desire for revenge and thenneed to bear witness to the struggle ofnthose who died; it was a matter of dignity,nof affirming the humanity thennazis—and all the anti-Semites of thenday, malevolent or indifferent—triednto deny.nYet survival, as Wiesel insists, cannalso cost dignity, expend what it triesnto save. Eisner knows this. Couragenneeds thought to complement it, andnthought that serves survival often recommendsnindignity. Eisner watched annSS officer whip his mother:nI wanted to leap at the sadist’s throat.nBut I didn’t budge. Survival was whatncounted.nHe watched a nazi commandant herdnJews into a synagogue, put a gasolinencan on the porch, then explode the cannwith machine gun bullets:nSick to my stomach, I watched the infernonfrom a distance. All my ownnfears, anguish, and self-pity vanished.nI wanted to jump on [the commandant’s]nneck. To squeeze it. Tonwrench the last breath from his body.nBut my mind told me I was helpless.nAll I could do was turn my eyes tonthe forest.nIn Flossenburg, his last concentrationncamp, Eisner became “friendly” with anGerman criminal who worked at thendisinfection chambers. “I soon becamenpart of the eUte, an inmate with connections”—sonmuch so that he achievednredesignation as “an Aryan Christian.”nWiesel would devote many pages tonsuch incidents, weighing the ethicalnproblems they pose (in fact he did watchnhis father beaten, and writes extensivelynabout it). Eisner, the survivor who acts,nmoves on.nEisner has no immunity to guilt.nEarly in the war, after escaping thenghetto to live in “Aryan Warsaw,” henreturned; “my conscience bothered me.”nWhen a young friend was killed duringna smuggling expedition, Eisner feltnresponsibility. Forced to carry starvingninmates to the crematorium in Flossenburg,nmadness nearly claimed him:nThat night, I couldn’t sleep at all.nThose big brown eyes. Those big blueneyes. Those big wide-open green eyes.nMillions of eyes stared at me all nightnlong. I hated those eyes. … I hatednthe world.nGuilt, yes: disabling guilt, never. Innhis monologue with the dead—withnthese dead, the ones he carried—Eisnernmay accuse himself, but he can accusennnthe world with more vehemence, andnmore justification. In his book he restrainsnhimself, except when he writesnof the nazis.nXhis world, not quite rid of nazis,nreads memoirs of the Holocaust,nwatches new holocausts in Mao’s Chinanand in Cambodia. Perhaps the world’sncontinued ignorance, indifference andncriminality goads Eisner not only tonpresent Hell but also to explain it. (Fornexample, he tells of a sign on Flossenburg’sngate that said, “Work liberates,”nadding “The message was totally ironic.”nHe does this sort of thing more thannonce.) At times he tells us more thannwe should know, as.when he describesna couple of his early sexual adventuresnin prose worthy of Penthouse. Therenare pages that read all too much “likena novel”—or worse, a cheap and trivialnscreenplay. What he has lived needs nondramatization. Eisner, who writes withnterse forcefulness at his best, shouldnnot be blamed for literary misjudgment;nhe runs an import-export business (thenworld of acts, as always), not a literarynjournal. Blame his editors.nWiesel’s more refined and powerfulnintellect takes us places Eisner cannot.nEisner’s activeness also takes us places,ngiving us five memories for each Wieselnpresents. Here is one that only Wieselncould elaborate upon properly: at onencamp, a nazi general on a white horsenstopped in front of the inmates. At hisnside, on a white pony, rode a 10-year-oldnJewish boy dressed in a white uniform,nblack boots and carrying a small whip.nThe boy ordered his fellow Jews intonthe showers. Days later, he saved Eisnernfrom execution, ordered him to benwhipped, smiled, comphmented hisncourage and handed him a chocolatenbar. Shining like ebony, this brilliantnevil mesmerizes as it repels. (If he survived,nwhat would be this child’s monologuenwith the dead.”) If memoirs of thenHolocaust teach us to learn the rightnsilence, they also teach us to try to findnthe right speech and the right acts bynshowing us what happens if we fail. DnMay/Jttne 1981n