Oprah: Part of what you were feeling was his humiliation, right?
Elie: I was humiliated because my father was helpless. After they beat him, he told me, "It didn't hurt." I should have thrown myself at his tormentor.
Oprah: You would be dead.
Elie: I should have done it anyway. But we were already conditioned not to fight back. In the camps, we discovered this whole universe where everyone had his place. The killer came to kill, and the victim came to die. This universe had its own language, culture, hierarchy, its own princes and madmen. Yet even in all of that, I was grateful to see my father every day. If someone smiled at me, I was grateful. Even in there!
Oprah: What kept you from losing your mind in the camps?
Elie: To this day, that is a mystery to me. After the war, I studied psychiatry, and I still don't know why I didn't lose my mind. I was thinking to myself one day, "Why didn't I go mad?" And when I say I, I mean all of us. In the camps, you could only make it if you were stronger than the others.
Oprah: In Night, you explain that on your first night in the camp when you saw babies being thrown into the flames, you touched your face and thought, "Am I alive? Is this real?"
Elie: For a long time, I wondered, "Did I see that?" Even today, I ask this of myself. I sometimes doubt my own eyes. Years after the war, I checked with friends who had arrived at the camps in those times, and they also saw what I did. But Oprah, there are many things that remain hidden inside you––it takes a special key to open them. For instance, I've been asking myself for the past few months, "What was the worst part of my experience in the camps?" And I realized that it was when my father, who was sick, called out to me—and I didn't respond, because I was afraid to be beaten up. I let him die. That day, my father got his portion of bread, and somebody who saw that he was dying stole his bread. My father wanted me to protect him, but I couldn't. To this day, I think, "How can a person go through this and not lose his mind?"
Oprah: You and the others in the camp were forced to march by three people who were hanged. And somebody behind you whispered, "Where is God?"
Elie: A voice in me said, "God is there."
Oprah: Where are you and God with each other these days?
Elie: We still have a few problems! But even in the camps, I never divorced God. After the war, I went on praying to God. I was angry. I protested. I'm still protesting—and occasionally, I'm still angry. But it's not because of the past, but the present. When I see victims of a tragedy—and especially children—I say to God, "Don't tell me that you have nothing to do with this. You are everywhere—you are God."
Oprah: Do you think that God lives in the people—and the people stand by and watch the children suffer?
Elie: The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
We Hear You!