Elie Wiesel, in his memoir Night, writes about the High Holidays in Auschwitz:
In days gone by, Rosh Hashanah had dominated my life. I knew that my sins grieved the Almighty and so I pleaded for forgiveness. In those days, I fully believed that the salvation of the world depended on every one of my deeds, on every one of my prayers. But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.
Many of the central figures in Night, including Wiesel himself, were people for whom faith, religious study, and ritual observance were at the heart of their lives. Among the many conflicts and tragedies in Wiesel’s story is the way that the Holocaust unsettled, and even destroyed, their religious identities and beliefs. For believers, the Holocaust raised and continues to raise painful questions: How could a good and all-powerful God allow this to happen?
While Elie Wiesel reflected on his relationship with God in his writing, Samuel Bak has posed questions of faith and doubt in his paintings. Bak was born in 1933 in Vilna. He was eight when the Germans invaded in 1941, and he began painting in the ghetto. His father and his four grandparents were murdered by the Nazis, but Bak survived with his mother in a forced-labor camp, as well as by hiding in a convent. The painting in this lesson, The Creation of Wartime III, is one of a series that centers around questions of faith and doubt.