Cover image for The fifth son
The fifth son
Wiesel, Elie, 1928-2016.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Cinquième fils. English
First Schocken paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Schocken Books, 1998.

Physical Description:
220 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reuven Tamiroff, a Holocaust survivor, has never been able to speak about his past to his son, a young man who yearns to understand his father's silence. As campuses burn amidst the unrest of the Sixties and his own generation rebels, the son is drawn to his father's circle of wartime friends in search of clues to the past. Finally discovering that his brooding father has been haunted for years by his role in the murder of a brutal SS officer just after the war, young Tamiroff learns that the Nazi is still alive. Haunting, poetic, and very contemporary, The Fifth Son builds to an unforgettable climax as the son sets out to complete his father's act of revenge.

Author Notes

Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel was born in Sighet, Romania on September 30, 1928. In 1944, he and his family were deported along with other Jews to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. His mother and his younger sister died there. He loaded stones onto railway cars in a labor camp called Buna before being sent to Buchenwald, where his father died. He was liberated by the United States Third Army on April 11, 1945. After the war ended, he learned that his two older sisters had also survived. He was placed on a train of 400 orphans that was headed to France, where he was assigned to a home in Normandy under the care of a Jewish organization.

He was educated at the Sorbonne and supported himself as a tutor, a Hebrew teacher and a translator. He started writing for the French newspaper L'Arche. In 1948, L'Arche sent him to Israel to report on that newly founded state. He also became the Paris correspondent for the daily Yediot Ahronot. In this capacity, he interviewed the novelist Francois Mauriac, who urged him to write about his war experiences. The result was La Nuit (Night).

After the publication of Night, Wiesel became a writer, literary critic, and journalist. His other books include Dawn, The Accident, The Gates of the Forest, The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry, and Twilight. He received a numerous awards and honors for his literary work including the William and Janice Epstein Fiction Award in 1965, the Jewish Heritage Award in 1966, the Prix Medicis in 1969, and the Prix Livre-International in 1980. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work in combating human cruelty and in advocating justice. He had a leading role in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D. C. He died on July 2, 2016 at the age of 87.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Was it dawn or dusk? The town of Reshastadt appears crouch and unreal under a steady slow drizzle. Was he already asleep? Or not yet awake? I did not exist for him. I was the bearer of a message, but he was not aware of either message or messenger.   Here is the station. In my confusion, I did not know whether I had just arrived or was preparing to leave again. Was I awake? I was floating in the unreal. Just like the day I followed Lisa on her trip. The same panic oppressed me. The same fist clutched my chest. But that day I loved Lisa--and today I did not love myself.   At one point, inexplicable, I thought I felt my father's presence behind me. I jumped and turned around: "You shouldn't have," he told me as his hand pointed to the station and the streets and the town and the mountains that were already receding. "Forgive me," I stammered. "Forgive me, Father, for having brought you back here, but I had no choice,"   My father shook his head unhappily. He was judging me. He was not really here, but his condemnation was real enough. How could I explain it? He hated explanations. He just kept saying: no, no, you shouldn't have.   And so, like long ago, after the trip with Lisa, upon awakening I felt overwhelmed, weighed down with unspeakable remorse; my thoughts confused, my tongue pasty, I felt a stranger to myself. I began to pace the waiting room. Advertising posters: beautiful girls and their friends their lovers swim and laugh and drink and run and call and offer themselves for little or nothing, for a moment or a lifetime.   I tried to understand myself. I did not succeed. Once on the train, things would be better, that was a promise.   ###   "You shouldn't have," repeats my father. I could reply: "And you?" But I say nothing, I feel guilty. And yet I have done nothing. I feel guilty because I have done nothing.   If only I could get angry, express my rage, but I cannot. . . . And that saddens and annoys me and I resent this insensitive world and my father who understands without understanding that there is nothing to understand, for noise becomes torture and memory drives one mad and the future pushes us back to the edge of the precipice and death envelops us and rocks us and stifles us and, helpless, we can neither cry nor run.   Attention, all passengers. Leaving? Arriving? Goodbye, Reshastadt, the train is arriving, the train arrives, next stop Frankfurt then the airport then the plane then New York and the adventure starts all over again, ecstasy for lovers, prison for beggars, watch out all aboard your ticket bitte, nicht hinauslehnen, bitte.   I beg your pardon, Mr. German ticket-taker conductor, I beg your pardon, father, descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you are right, I shouldn't have. Why did I go to Germany and why did I seek out this dull and hateful little town? Why renew contact with a past drowned in blood? To conclude a project which from the start was doomed to fail? Had I really, truly imagined being able to dominate another man, to crush him, annihilate him?   I see my father looking at me disapprovingly. Yet it is his story that has led me here, on this train which seems to go backward rather than forward. The story of a leader who, again by chance, was called upon to play a role he never really wanted.   Poor father. He thought he was strong, stronger than the enemy. My turn to tell him: "You shouldn't have. . . ." Were he here, I would break down and weep.   ###   I know: the things I say about my father disconcert you; what I am about to say will perhaps disconcert you further. Am I old-fashioned? I love my father. I love him down to his weaknesses. When we are apart, all I have to do is think of him and everything around me, everything inside me becomes transparent. Words burst into flames and roar until I shut my ears. My father's voice reaches me from another world. I feel excluded, rejected.   Of course, we have had our differences which at times turned into bitter arguments; then I would bite my lip so as not to cry out. That is natural, human: love is a series of scars. "No heart is as whole as a broken heart," said the celebrated Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. My father broke my heart more than once; even now, as I speak of it, I hurt.   For he affects me, my father does. Nobody has ever affected me as deeply. There are times when I think of him, grave and unsmiling, and tears well up in my eyes. I feel both caught and liberated by a force that comes from far away. His every word, his every glance is for me a place, a moment of fusion. Every contact with him becomes reflection and encounter. Two exiles are joined in a single exhortation.   Yet there is nothing extraordinary about his appearance. He is an average man, of average height, with an average income, living in an average house in a neighborhood for average residents. A refugee like so many others in a city whose ethnic pluralism is its true pride. Except for the fact that he shows no interest in baseball and football, he follows the rules of the "American way of life." Vitamins, ready-made clothes and The New York Times. Neither his way of speaking nor his manner of keeping silent attracts attention. He seeks anonymity. One must see him at close range to take notice. But then one cannot turn away. His eyes, his beautiful grave eyes, peer out from under heavy lids and bring you under their spell. If you are sensitive to the human face, you will not be able to free yourself of his; it suggests a distant darkness. But my father shuns observation. Eyes are cumbersome, he says, intrusive. Surely that is not the real reason. The real reason, in my opinion, had to do with the war. During that time, in Europe, one had to lose oneself in the crowd, melt into the night. To survive, one needed not to exist.   One day, much later, somewhere in the Orient, a sage studied the lines of my hand and face, considered my destiny and shook his head, signifying great confusion: "Your case, my young traveler, leaves me perplexed: this is the first time it happens to me. I situate you within the flow of time it happens to me. I situate you within the flow of time and within the memory that restrains time. I see you kneeling before the gods of knowledge and the goddesses of passion. I see you standing before their priests. I recognize you among your friends, I discover you face-to-face with your enemies. But one being is missing from the landscape; I do not see your father." A troubled light then appeared in his dark eyes. And he added, softly: "Help me, yes, help me rediscover your father."   ### Excerpted from The Fifth Son by Elie Wiesel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.