I am a huge admirer of Elie Wiesel and his Humanitarian work. The first time that I became aware of him was in 1993 when I was desperately looking for employment. I had just previously studied at my local College in Croydon with the hope of embarking on a degree course in Electronic Engineering. Instead, I came across prejudice, hatred, and misuse of power that tore all my hopes and dreams into a thousand pieces. This was an intensely dark night of my life as I saw the shattered pieces of my dream blowing away in the wind spelling the end of a reality I had worked so hard to build.
It was a long dark evening in November, and I was not sure if there was ever going to be a morning again. I was walking home with a heavy heart full of profound sadness as if I were mourning the death of a close one, except the death was the death of my dream and my future.
Back then, walking home through the shopping centre was a very magical and mystical time, not be found anywhere else on this planet. Generally, during this time you see children peering through shop windows looking to buy fireworks for the fifth celebration. In the distant background, you can hear the sounds of the clock tower bell that rings once for every hour... every hour. Sometimes you can hear a school choir practising preparing for Christmas. There is a slight hint of the smell of onions frying at the hot-dog stall, or sometimes fresh bread from the local bakery, and the air is very cold, crisp and clear.
Even with the pain in my heart, I kept a smile on my face. Because I knew that this time, this place on this planet, the whole alignment of the stars in the galaxy was a unique moment that will never come again.
I came across a small makeshift second-hand bookstall on the side of the road. It was the first time that I had noticed it there and I decided to walk over to see what books were on sale. I had learnt that sometimes simply looking at books and window-shopping can raise the spirit, and my spirit really did need rising. The very first book I picked up had a strange picture on the cover of a thin figure standing behind barbed wire. The picture on the book was a good depiction of exactly how I felt at that time. Whilst looking at the picture it occurred to me how man had found so many overt and covert ways of curtailing the freedoms and progress of other men.
Standing there, I read a small fragment, and realised that I was reading a real account of someone's life and that this was not a fiction-novel. The book was very thin around 100 pages and therefore the stall keeper wanted just 20 pence (9 cents) for it. Just as well I thought, as that was about all that I had in my pocket at the time, my last bit of money.
When my shattered body and soul finally reached home, I opened the front door, to notice that the house was freezing cold and dark, as the heating had been turned off to save money. I decide to make a warm cup of tea and look in the coal bag hoping to make a small fire to last an hour or two before I finally drifted off to sleep on the couch. Then I remembered that I had just bought a book, and reached for the carrier bag...
That evening I read the whole book and I was moved to put it mildly, as men generally never say that they shed a tear or two. The book that I bought was of course 'Night' by Elie Wiesel.
As I sat, there is silence, gathering my thoughts, watching the last fragments of the coal dissolve into the fire, my thoughts turned to the meaning and sound of the word holocaust. How the meaning of the word had such a finality to it that describes a complete and total destruction. In many ways, destruction by a burning so intense that not even remnants of ash are left behind. The burning of humankind and humanity and all that humanity stood for.
There are no other words that come even close to accurately describing the events of the Second World War, and reading 'Night' made me realise that the word holocaust should not be used lightly or out of context.
There are no limits to the depths of evil that man can descend, and the most dangerous men are those that occupy a position of authority full of hate, because that is the time that hate can materialise into evil. When power can be misused and they can inflict the maximum damage. Hate opens the door to evil, and power allows it to walk freely amongst other men.
At Croydon College I had learnt that when a man such as this expresses his hatred, that power is later very often misused; computer records altered, names entered in unofficial blacklists. He sees to it that you do not progress and obtains a perverse pleasure out of letting you know as well.
Back in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s prejudice and institutional racism were a commonplace. People of colour were not seen as equals, or even human by many. A person of colour is expected to get used to prejudiced hatred and bigotry, however it always saddened me when I came across such people because there was nothing I could do. Hated simply for being alive and looking different is a unique experience that very few 'educated' white people can even begin to understand. I found many answers and a common frame of reference in all of Elie's books that I could not find elsewhere.
Just like Elie, I became a Humanitarian. I have learnt that it is always better to forgive and walk away, because people always learn and realise their mistakes later on... assuming they have the intelligence to realise.
This image reminds me of myself as a thin scrawny teenager, I had no face or name or worth. I was just a shadow of undesirable colour that people saw and had to 'tolerate'. Of course, I hardly ever think of Croydon College, except on the rare occasion someone might comment that I was gifted in electronics, and ask if I had ever thought of studying for an engineering degree...
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