Twenty years after he and his fellow Jews were deported from the Transylvanian town of Sighet, Elie Wiesel, who died this past Saturday at eighty-seven, returned to his birthplace. Here is the 1965 essay he wrote on his visit:
The Jews’ Street, once so lively and noisy, is now deserted. Its name has been changed. It is called the Street of the Deported. Who deported whom? A question devoid of interest or importance. No one asks it. The past is buried. People must live. And above all, they must forget. I met my old elementary-school teacher: my name meant nothing to him. I spoke to a neighbor who used to come to us every day of the week: she did not remember me. Someday some worthy citizen will glance at the name of the business street and say quite innocently: “The Street of Deported? I seem to recall that they were Jews.” He will not be sure. Even today he is not sure. The Jews deported from Sighet did not belong to Sighet. They belonged to some other place, some other planet. They were strangers. If the Jews were to come back, they would be driven away again.
Had it not ever been thus? No doubt it had, but I had been too young at the time to understand it. The population had always thought that Jews did not become strangers, they were born that way. Only, these peaceful inhabitants go further than that. Today, for them, I am not even a stranger robbed of his childhood, not even a phantom in search of memories. Have they forgotten everything? No. Rather, they give the impression of having nothing to forget. There never were any Jews in Sighet, the former capital of the celebrated region of Maramures.
Thus, the Jews have been driven not only out of the town but out of time as well.