Read Hostage Online

Authors: Elie Wiesel

Tags: #Historical



Translation copyright © 2012 by Catherine Temerson

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Originally published in France as
by Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris, in 2010. Copyright © 2010 by Elirion Associates. Copyright © 2010 by Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle.

Knopf, Borzoi Books and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

A limited edition of this work is being published by Easton Press, Norwalk.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wiesel, Elie, [date]

[Otage. English]
Hostage / Elie Wiesel; translated from the French by Catherine Temerson.—1st ed.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-95860-0
1. Hostages—Fiction. 2. Kidnapping—Fiction. I. Temerson, Catherine. II. Title.
PQ2683I32o8313 2012    843′.914—dc23    2011050747

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by Chip Kidd
Cover photo: Cristina Pedrazzini / Photo Researchers, Inc.



Can man be free in prison? Can the eternal wanderer lose his sense of eternity as he gropes his way forward through the forest whose huge trees touch the sky? Will the child who is searching for the old man in order to gather his tears of joy and memories of sadness, find them before his years disappear in the mists of the grieving dawn?

Oh, if only I knew the art of questioning.

, “Time, a Series of Errors?”

“Someone is missing,” Shaltiel murmurs, his head slightly tilted. No one has heard him

Around the table, in the dining room, the guests are telling each other stories both related and unrelated to the circumstances uniting them that evening. The atmosphere is warm and joyous. How could it not be? Didn’t they come to celebrate the life of a man and the freedom of men?

Policemen and intelligence agents, Americans and Israelis, friends and members of Shaltiel’s family, they all feel they are entitled to it, to this privilege. They all suffered along with him, from close or from far away, often in secret; they all shared his anguish, or at least they were aware of it and it had left its mark

says a big, bespectacled man with delicate hands as he raises his glass: “To life.” And they all join in. Yes, to life. To the right to life. Everyone’s right. To the joy of being with someone who was going to lose his life for unacceptable, absurd reasons

Shaltiel runs his eyes over his friends, new and old. He is grateful to them all

But someone is missing

That’s the way it is and I can’t do anything about it.

Though I was surely born in joy, I have always lived in anguish.

In the basement, his thoughts catapult him into the past. So is this what a man’s life is all about? Moving from one shelter to another, both opening out on brutality, remorse and nothingness?

It’s only a dream, Shaltiel says to himself. An idiotic, senseless dream. As all dreams are. Inevitable and useless. Sometimes, we dream because we are anxious, and because we don’t understand.

I am walking in the mountains. In the midst of a crowd. I am moving forward with slow steps. I don’t know anyone. I have no idea why a strange instinct urges me to flee. Could the enemy be everywhere? I ask one person, then another: “What are we doing here?” A bearded old man replies: “It’s you I’m looking for.” He vanishes. A sad, dark-haired young woman replies: “It’s you who are waiting for me.” She vanishes too. A man with a gentle face says: “It’s you.” They all assert: “It’s you.” Behind them—it’s odd—a stranger with an intense gaze
nods his head and flashes a knowing wink at me; I know he’s dead, but he’s walking with the others. And he says nothing. Suddenly my heart starts pounding madly: They’ve all vanished, except the dead person, and that’s me. I’m alone. And the mountains narrow in on me; they become me. And in my dream, I say to myself: It’s a dream. Is it mine? Not theirs? How am I to know?

Oh, to unravel the fabrics of dreams and fantasies that inhabit the prisoner, to disentangle the time and duration that engross philosophers, the conscience of the ascetic and the intuition of psychologists, the fire and anathema of moralists so they won’t turn into illusions and lies. Tell me, how is it done?

He is afraid: If he shuts his eyes, he plunges back into an unreal universe with people alive or dead. When he reopens them, the fear has not left him.

He remembers the pitch-black darkness, with red glimmers bearing misfortune, the sadness vying with astonishment; and, in the dream, his eyes fill with tears.

Who will speak of the role of fear in the torment experienced by the hostage who, on the level of fate or the gods, exists only for his executioners?

This tragedy, the very first of its kind, took place in 1975. It caused a considerable stir in the media at the time, in Jewish communities and in so-called diplomatic circles.

Shaltiel Feigenberg, a discreet man with no status or fortune, became famous all over the world.

But not for long.

Who remembers him today?

The buzzing in the ears.

The taste of ash.

The turmoil in my chest, the knot in my throat. The heartrending feelings and thoughts.

Like before? In a different way, possibly worse. Before, over there, the danger threatened us all. Here it feels like I’m the only target.

It’s the first day. Long, too long. Longer and longer. With few outside events. Where am I? In a large underground storage room? In a basement haunted by unspeakable villainies and curses? There are two bizarre individuals, their faces poorly concealed under hoods. Eventually they’ll remove them. Nowadays that would no longer be possible: Terrorists are determined to remain anonymous. In regaining consciousness, my first sensation was the pain in the nape of my neck. There was blood in my mouth. Few words were exchanged: name, address, telephone number. Surely they already knew the answers.

“Where am I?”

“Far away,” said a singsong voice.

“Who are you?”

“Your fate,” said the same voice.

Could this be some sort of prank, young students in search of thrills or the sensational? This is all unthinkable. Peaceful, innocent citizens aren’t supposed to be abducted.

They’re making a mistake, Shaltiel said to himself. They think I’m someone else. That’s the only possible explanation.
They think I’m lying to them. That I’m not me but one of their enemies. Could a person’s identity be a mistake, an accident? A fatality? Freedom, a mental exercise? The life of a man, a sham? Sages compare it to a leaf trembling in the wind, a fleeting dream, the shadow of a bird or a cloud. Fine, as a moral warning that’s acceptable. But a cruel farce? Decided by whom? For what purpose?

What do they want from me? What have I done to them? Why are they bullying me so relentlessly?

“Whom do you know, among your Jewish friends, who’s rich and important? Talk, you fool, otherwise you’re dead! The Prophet’s sword is merciless! Names, give us names! Out with them! Jews, damn them, know influential people everywhere.”

Insults, curses, spit. But no blows, not yet.

The mental suffering, the violation of my inner world—why so much suffering once again?

Who are they? Who am I to them?

I don’t understand, I don’t understand a thing.

He passes a seemingly endless night. Crouched on the floor, sleep escapes him. A few interruptions, a few starts, more dreams and phantasmagorical visions: He is in a glass coach, drawn by several white horses, singing and drifting in a fierce wind toward massive mountains. Suddenly he realizes that children with petrified eyes have replaced the majestic horses.

What does that mean?

And this imprisonment, this isolation, what could they possibly mean? It’s all a large, diabolical chessboard.

Hungry? Not at all. Thirsty, yes. Very thirsty. And so exhausted that thinking seems impossible.

No doubt it is daybreak somewhere, for the noises from the
outside are becoming more audible—the roar of cars, the calls of children.

So we’re close to a city. My guess is a suburb. As in the past? “Over there,” the danger came from outside, and no one would interfere. Here, who knows? Perhaps someone will notice something odd.

Oh yes, and the police. The police: the eyes and ears of any civilized community. Blanca must have told them.

Patience. Advice to my nerves: Be strong. To my heart: Calm down. And to my brain: Don’t panic. All of this will soon be solved. Tomorrow life will be beautiful.

Today starts off badly, though, with the first genuine cross-examination.

Shaltiel’s words are pitiful, mutilated, forced out painstakingly and grudgingly. He already knows that it’s been hours—long, sluggish hours—that he hasn’t been free. He’s been made a prisoner by strangers. Once again he is the victim of barbarity, but for what reason?

Deadened, assailed, his temples ache. Soon blood is going to flow, and will not stop. Can one drown in one’s own blood?

“Don’t be stubborn. You can’t fight destiny. We’re stronger than you. You’ll come to a bad end.”

“Where am I?”

“Far away.”

“Who are you?”

“Your masters,” says a harsh voice. “Your life is in our hands.”


“Because it is,” says another voice, less harsh.

“When will you let me go?”

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