the five survivors, four men and one woman, too exhausted to be astonished
at the solemn, not to say pompous, tone of these remarks? They did not
react. Their host seemed to be relishing his role; no doubt this was one
he had played in front of other travelers who had sought shelter beneath
his roof on stormy nights.
They appeared content, these tourists who had become refugees; they were
relievedin good spirits, even. Their nightmare was over. In this
room, which resembled a large monastic cell with bare, immaculately white
walls, they had no cause to be uneasy. Quite the reverse; they felt lucky:
Had they not just escaped catastrophe? After those interminable minutes
of apprehension before the plane's forced landing, the universe had rediscovered
its contours, its anchor. Their fear was dissipated. The elements would
surely calm down. With solid ground beneath their feet, they enjoyed a
sense of security here in this light, warm room with a host who gave evidence
of the kindness of the human heart. He was smiling at them, a good sign.
They had been fortunate to come across him. From now on all would be well.
The other passengers would surely envy them when they exchanged stories,
once back on the plane. For the moment they congratulated themselves on
the outcome of an adventure that could have ended so badly.
"Damn it," murmured one of the travelers, a squat, morose man; he was
rummaging in his pockets, searching for lost documents. No doubt he had
left them on the plane.
Razziel understood his anxiety: They all lived in a world where a human
being counts for less than a piece of paper. He almost proffered him a
friendly word of reassuranceDon't worry; you know, in situations
like this the authorities are understandingbut decided not to. He
uttered a silent prayer, thanking the Lord for having taken care of him.
The third man, tall, well-dressed, with a fedora, a mustache, and a red
scarf around his neck, much in the style of a movie star, smiled at the
woman, who was swathed in a fur coat. The danger was barely past and he
was already beginning to flirt. The woman, who was put out at having left
her gloves behind, blew on her fingers. Razziel glanced at the youngest
of the group, who seemed indifferent to what was happening to them. This
young man had something on his mind, something that was of no concern
to his fellow travelers. If he was in a hurry to continue his journey,
he did not show it. His eyes were focused on their host: There was something
forced and false about him. His smile was disconcerting rather than reassuring.
There was a fixity about his stare, a rigidity about his movements, like
an actor; he seemed to be cooking up some secret plan, although his guests
were not yet aware of it.
"First let us thank you for your hospitality," said the woman, an ebullient
young redhead, offering him her hand, which he appeared not to see. "Truly"
"It is I who must thank you," replied her benefactor, assisting her, with
exaggerated courtesy, to remove her elegant fur coat. "If you only knew
how dismal and monotonous existence can be here, especially in winter.
The local people get depressed. All they can think about is the weather.
And all the world does here is grow old. Sometimes we feel forgotten,
both by History and by men. By the gods too. Thanks to you, things will
happen. What would life be without its little surprises? I am obliged
to you for the Creator's gift to man: his capacity to surprise."
Then he introduced himself.
"I am the owner of this modest house. My name would mean nothing to you;
besides, it's of little significance. What's in a name? I could give you
a dozen. But instead let me tell you my profession. I am a judge. And,
indeed, tonight I will be your judge."
What a showman, Razziel said to himself, still unaware that the nightmare
was beginning. How subtle this fellow is. And crafty. In putting on this
performance for us, he's trying to make us forget the danger we have just
escaped and help to pass the time while we wait. Only later did he realize
that the real source of danger was this character himself. At this moment
he seemed overly amiable and welcoming, eager to win the confidence and
gratitude of his guests, which they were fully disposed to accord him.
"Please be so kind as to listen to me carefully. This little house is
not exactly paradise; it does not allow me to offer you bedrooms. These
are already occupied by my staff. You will be meeting my chief assistant
shortly. His correct name isoh, forget it. As he's not very tall,
he prefers to be called the 'Little One,' or, as he's not very handsome,
you could call him the 'Hunchback' because he's"
"Fine. We get the picture," the young woman interrupted, laughing. "If
you're not careful he might sue you for assault on his dignity."
The Judge glanced at her reprovingly. "Interrupting a judge can be a serious
"Or an enjoyable sin," intervened the elegant man.
"Oh, well, sins. I know a thing or two about them," said the young
The Judge ignored these remarks. "This room is heated by two electric
radiators, which my assistant can regulate from outside. If you are too
hot or too cold, let us know. The bathroom is behind methe narrow
door there, you see? Does anyone need . . . ?"
No volunteers. In fact, Razziel would have liked to make a visit, but
it was not urgent.
"When we have completed our preliminaries, an interesting task awaits
us," resumed the Judge, rubbing his hands as if to warm them. "You will
see. I have everything ready: pens, notebooks . . . and even some good
strong teaor is there anyone among you who would prefer coffee?
I have that too. I have all you need. While you are in my house you will
have nothing to complain of." A silence. "Afterwardwell, afterward
is another story."
The room was pleasant, furnished with simplicity: chairs around a circular
table, a sofa, dictionaries in a corner on the floor. The dandy was the
first of the men to remove his overcoat, which earned him mildly ironic
congratulations from the Judge: "Well done, sir. I can see you make yourself
at home wherever you go."
The Judge, in his turn, removed his heavy fur-lined cape, that of a shepherd
or mountain dweller. Razziel was expecting to see the man casually dressed.
But he was dressed in a dark gray suit, white shirt, navy-blue tie. Very
smart. As if he had just come from a dinner in town. In an indefinable
way he compelled respect. Everything he said and did was calculated. If
Razziel, disconcerted by the fixity of his stare, had had to guess his
profession or vocation, he would have opted for undertaker in a superior
funeral parlor, Protestant minister, or professor of canon law.
"So. Please be seated. Look, take this chair, it's quite comfortable.
They all are. And you, madam, that one over there. You other gentlemen,
take any chair. You must be exhausted. I shall remain standing."
He waited for everyone to be seated before continuing.
"Everything all right?"
Yes, everything was all right.
"If anyone wishes to change places I have no objection."
No, no one wanted to do so.
"Good. In that case, let us begin. You know who I amthat is to say,
I have disclosed my profession to you. Now it is your turn. After all,
we are going to spend this long night together, and perhaps others too.
It's only natural, don't you agree, for all of us to introduce ourselves?"
Yes, they agreed. Oddly enough, the Judge was right. The five survivors
did not know one another. Thrown together by chance, first in the same
airplane, now in this place, why should they not explain their reasons
for traveling? Five lives, five stories had come together in a strange
convergence. After all, any one of the Judge's "guests" could have been
elsewhere; any one of them could have changed schedules or arrived too
late for boarding.
"To begin with," the Judge continued, starting to pace around the table,
"let us limit ourselves to basic biographical details: surname and forename,
profession, place of birth, marital status, purpose of travel. Imagine
you're checking in at a hotel. Making a passport or visa application.
So? Who will speak first?"
The five visitors stared at him, bewildered: Was he serious? He guessed
what they were thinking and added, "Let us say that this is a game, a
parlor game that . . . that later, if heaven wills it, might become seriously
His "guests" were beginning to show irritation: What had they walked into?
Who did he think he was, this apprentice demagogue, so abusing the situation
as to make them talk about their private lives? Who authorized him to
give orders? The young woman was the first to pull herself together.
Excerpted from The Judges by Elie WieselCopyright
2002 by Elie Wiesel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Wiesel, a gripping novel of guilt, innocence, and the perilousness of
A plane en
route from New York to Tel Aviv is forced down by bad weather. A nearby
house provides refuge for five of its passengers: Claudia, who has left
her husband and found new love; Razziel, a religious teacher who was once
a political prisoner; Yoav, a terminally ill Israeli commando; George,
an archivist who is hiding a Holocaust secret that could bring down a
certain politician; and Bruce, a would-be priest turned philanderer.
enigmatic and disquieting man who calls himself simply the Judgebegins
to interrogate them, forcing them to face the truth and meaning of their
lives. Soon he announces that one of themthe least worthywill
is a powerful novel that reflects the philosophical, religious, and moral
questions that are at the heart of Elie Wiesels work.
born in 1928 in Sighet, Romania. Growing up in a small village in Romania,
his world revolved around family, religious study, community and God.
Yet his family, community and his innocent faith were destroyed upon the
deportation of his village in 1944. Wiesel survived Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald
and Gleiwitz. After
the liberation of the camps in April 1945, Wiesel spent a few years in
a French orphanage and in 1948 began to study in Paris at the Sorbonne.He
was acquainted with Nobel laureate Francois Mauriac, who eventually influenced
Wiesel to break his vowed silence and write of his experience in the concentration
camps, thus beginning a lifetime of service.
Wiesel has since published over forty books, including his unforgettable
international best-sellers Night and A Beggar in Jerusalem,
winner of the Prix Médicis. He has been awarded the Presidential
Medal of Freedom, the United States Congressional Gold Medal, and the
French Legion of Honor with the rank of Grand Cross. In 1986, he received
the Nobel Peace Prize. He is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities
and University Professor at Boston University. He lives with his wife,
Marion, in New York City.
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