Night offers a personal and unforgettable account of the appalling horrors of Hitler's reign of terror. Through the eyes of 14-year-old Eliezer, we behold the tragic fate of the Jews from the little town of Sighet. Even as they are stuffed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, the townspeople refuse to believe rumors of anti-Semitic atrocities. Not until they are marched toward the blazing crematory at the camp's "reception center" does the terrible truth sink in.
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, has dedicated his life to the memory of the Holocaust’s martyrs and survivors. In his own words, “… I have fought those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.” (118)
Night is a profound and haunting memoir of life in the Nazi concentration camps. It is spring of 1944 when Wiesel and his family and neighbours first meet their oppressors: the "faces of hell and death" (19) On April 11, 1945, an American tank standing at the gates of Buchenwald, Wiesel will miraculously walk to freedom. In the interim is Night: a terrifying record of his memories of the death of his family, the death of his own innocence, and of the inimitable despair and sadness experienced in confronting the absolute evil of man. Wiesel’s testimony of what happened in the camps is unsparing of those who might wish to forget, or obscure the reality of, the horror that is the Holocaust.
"We received no food. We lived on snow; it took the place of bread. The days resembled the nights, and the nights left in our souls the dregs of their darkness. The train rolled slowly, often halted for a few hours, and continued. I never stopped snowing. We remained lying on the floor for days and nights, one on top of the other, never uttering a word. We were nothing but frozen bodies. Our eyes closed, we merely waited for the next atop, to unload our dead." (100)
Night is novella-length at one hundred twenty pages. Written in simple, stark prose, it is, I think, all the more powerful – there is nothing here to misunderstand, nowhere to hide. Very highly recommended.
Wiesel does not shy away from his own feelings of shame, shame forever, at how he felt towards his father, and for not answering his last words, which were calls to his son. He relays other horrifying stories of a son killing his father for bread, a Rabbi's son distancing himself from his father intentionally during a forced run during an evacuation, and Jews trampling and suffocating one another. There are poignant moments throughout, such as the last time he saw his mother and little sister, and how quickly the slipped out of his life forever.
Wiesel also does not shy away from his feelings towards God at the time, e.g. "Where is God? .... This is where - hanging from this gallows." Or, the Jews as having transcended everything "death, fatigue, our natural needs....we were the only men on earth." One of the dying states "I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people." These types of thoughts are things that I did not anticipate and were fascinating to me.
The introductory chapter in this edition included passages from the original Yiddish that I think should have survived editing, as well as an appendix that includes Wiesel's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
There is no way anyone can truly understand what it was like to have been in a Concentration camp but this book provides insight into it in a very honest, humble way. It more than accomplishes its goal of "bearing witness"; it is a moving, stirring book.
I'm left, after reading and re-reading Night, with several haunting images; two of which haunt me more than most. The first is an account of Wiesel being led with his father by the Nazis toward a ditch:
"Not far from us, flames were leaping up from a ditch, gigantic flames. They were burning something. A lorry drew up at the pit and delivered its load--little children. Babies! Yes, I saw it, saw it with my own eyes. . . those children in the flames. (Is it surprising that I could not sleep after that? Sleep had fled from my eyes.)...."We continued our march. We were gradually drawing closer to the ditch, from which an infernal heat was rising. Still twenty steps to go....Ten steps still. Eight. Seven. We marched slowly on, as though following a hearse at our own funeral. Four steps more. Three steps. There it was now, right in front of us, the pit and its flames."
And at this point, two steps from the flames, Wiesel (a child, remember) contemplates committing suicide by breaking from the line that he may hurl himself on the electrifed fence (unless the Nazi guards shoot him first) rather than suffer the slow agony of fire. A last second reprieve saves him: "Two steps from the pit we were ordered to turn to the left and made to go into a barracks."
Nevertheless, the damage was done--the sadistic mental torture inflicted by the Nazis in this instance had not left Wiesel unburnt. He writes, "Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever....Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust."
Wiesel ends his account with the second image that particularly haunts me: Wiesel, now recently freed from the Nazis, but still a boy, staring at himself in a mirror for the first time in ages: "From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me."
No doubt Night will ever leave its readers.
Elie Wiesel was 14 years old when the Nazis occupied his hometown of Sighet, rounded his community into ghettos, and ultimately loaded them onto cattle cars for the long journey into what Wiesel calls the Kingdom of Night. Fourteen. The same age as most of my 8th grade students. Although his recollections of those dark times are horrifying, Wiesel's descriptions are evocative and at times poetic, particularly in the edition translated by his wife. His words are haunting...and I feel like everything I've written so far is cliche. Does every review of Night sound like this? "Haunting...evocative...poetic..." Well, whatever.
There were two events in the memoir that stood out to me. The first is when the inmates are forced to watch the hangings of three "criminals," one of whom was just a small child. In the moment when young Elie walks past the hanging child--not yet dead--and looks into his eyes, Elie loses his faith. He sees God in the hanging child, and the child's death invokes the feeling of God's absence and indifference to his people's suffering.
The second event brought tears to my eyes. One of Elie's young companions in the death camp plays forbidden music on his violin through the night in a barrack full of dead and dying men. He put everything he had into that last concert and shared mournful beauty with his fellow captives before his soul escaped the nightmare.
Despite it's malevolence, I enjoy learning about the Holocaust. Perhaps "enjoy" is not the right word; however, I am drawn to the past. I feel I must internalize the memories that are handed down so that the past is not forgotten, so we can learn and grow. Wiesel said, "I always believed that to listen to a witness is to become a witness." That, I believe, is what makes studying the Holocaust so captivating--in reading the memories, seeing pictures of the horrors, and discussing the dark realities of the past, we become witnesses in our own right. My students and I can never truly understand what Wiesel and the other prisoners suffered, but we can keep their memories alive. We can remember and we can speak out against injustice.
I will leave you with more of Wiesel's powerful words:
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”
The simple style suits the starkness of this story. If the shadow of Anne's fate gives poignancy and sadness to reading her diary, somehow knowing Wiesel survives all this doesn't lighten the bleakness of his. I'd read this book before, and so much of what he recounts about his experience is familiar from other accounts, but somehow it doesn't lessen the impact--I think it even increased it. Maybe it's because it only highlights the horror of his individual experience. Watching the hanging of a child. Watching a son beat his own father for a crust of bread. A fellow inmate, when Elie chides him for treating Hitler like a prophet, responding that he does have faith in Hitler--because he alone has kept all his promises to the Jewish people. And above all watching his father die and how that leaves him feeling about himself--and God.
The book has the quality of fiction more than memoir. It has that kind of unity, imagery and impact. It's as dark as its title and subject suggests--but yes, very much worth the read.
All of that results from the human capacity for surviving, but that's short term survival. Long term survival (the prerequisite for civilization, for life beyond mere existence) requires we unlearn our coping mechanisms --once it's safe to do so. No matter how unpleasant, inconvenient, uncomfortable it is. Such a resolution by a trauma survivor marks the start of a healing journey. There must be something analogous for a community, and logically then, for individuals in a community.
R's school assignment suggested to me it was time to look again.
... if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. We could not prevent their deaths the first time, but if we forget them, they will be killed a second time.
-- Elie Wiesel (1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech)
Wiesel's memoir provides a primer on the sort of policies and behavior used to implement the Nazi "Final Solution", in towns before and after ghettoization, in transport to and between KZ, and in the KZ itself. Wiesel suggests an important consideration is how surviving all this affects a person's understanding of self; and that person's behavior toward others; and psychoemotional & physical reactions to enduring privation, threat, abuse; and that person's faith in people and in a higher being. The pressure from the experience never stops, and the resulting accommodation to such pressure constantly changes over the years and through different events, whether before or after survival.
This edition appended other speeches by Wiesel (including the Nobel Peace Prize speech), and speeches by others on the importance of Night and its continued relevance to readers.
* Perhaps atrocity is never past; certainly the necessity for reading about atrocity is never past.
Having learned about the Holocaust pretty much every year in school from age 10 to 18, I realized it was surprising and strange that I had never read this before. I picked it up knowing full well what happens, where they were going, how it would end. It's not the plot you read this book for, it's to privately allow yourself to mourn and remember those who were killed. It's to join your soul to Wiesel's in order to more fully understand his reminisces. His writing evokes so much emotion that it would be hard for any reader not to be moved.
I do not want to "recommend" this book, but I do think that it should be read by everyone to understand the atrocities man is capable of and to reflect on the history that has brought us to this place and time.
p viii. "I know only that without this testimony, my life as a writer--or my life, period-would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.".
That was crucial in the days of the first writing of this story, but even more so now that survivors such as Elie are beginning to die off. Without their words, and the work of those who seek to preserve those words, there is the danger of forgetting. I don't understand how it could possibly be forgotten, but there are people alive today who say it never happened and as time passes, any memory recedes. Writing such as this, simple yet powerful helps to keep the memory alive. It's like Santayana's Quote, which is on display at Auschwitz.
px: "Knowing all the while that any one of the fields of ashes at Birkenau carries more weight than all the testimonies about Birkenau."
1000% agreed. There's nothing like 'being there' and that's part of why I related to this book reading it when I did. I "was there" but at the same time, I wasn't. No one that didn't live through the horrors at Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald, Dachau, etc. can even begin to imagine, but we can learn. As I walked through Birkenau, I felt as if I was walking on the bodies of the dead. It hit me far more than Auschwitz did.
p xv: "For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences. For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. ... The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future."
There's so much I want to say about that, so many places I want to go, but I can't. The sad thing is, we've let it happen again: Bosnia, Darfur to name just two. Rwanda. But yet it's different. Of course it's different, in a time that we should have known and done better, but we've let them down. Did they die in vain? Elie and his neighbours thought they were safe, much as we all think we're safe today. But are we?
p xx: When Elie is quoted as quoting another at the camp re: God's place at the camps. What hit me at Birkenau was a camp building with a cross. What was a place of God doing in such an un Godly location. I don't know how any survivors kept their faith, I don't. It's amazing that Moishe was able to survive and return but to what end? Did he save any lives? What became of Moishe the Beadle?
p12. "The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion."
but would you rather know for certain what was coming and not be able to do anything about it?
p27: "But we were pulling into a station. Someone near a window read to us: 'Auschwitz.' Nobody had ever heard that name."
and now, no one will ever forget it. There is the discussion that people today who live in Ozwiecim live there, that Auschwitz was the camp. And in some ways, they are separate. Many people do not know the Polish name of the town, and that helps them. I cannot imagine living in the shadow of such horror.
p28: The horrible mind's eye of Mrs. Schachter comes true. "In front of us, those flames, In the air, the smell of burning flesh. It must have been around midnight. We had arrived. In Birkenau.
But yet the Sighet Jews knew nothing of the horrors in 1944. Knew nothing other than Mrs. Schachter's 'visions' but even if they had known, who would have believed it?
And to think they were 'saved' by one step or two. What would the world have known differently without Mr. Wiesel's recount, one of the most memorable and readable.
p. 40 "But no sooner had we taken a few more steps than we saw the barbed wire of another camp. This one had an iron gate with the overhead inscription: ARBEIT MACHT FREI. Work makes you free. Auschwitz.
As I said, it is the symbol of Auschwitz. Until yesterday, I didn't know that it was used at a number of other camps. Auschwitz has a photo of the Dachau gate.
Somehow, Wiesel (and this I believe is how he had success) managed to get the point across and feel his pain without dragging it out. Night is 'only' 120 pages, yet it has the power through its words of 1200.
I've read other survivor accounts, Primo Levi's come to mind first, but they weren't as clear or as loud. I think this is become Elie's translator, his wife Marion, knows his voice.
I'll probably add more, I'm still digesting.
The book starts out as Elie is only twelve years old and is living in Transylvania. It is not long before he and his family are then moved to his towns ghetto, and following that, the concentration camp at Birkeneau. Elie is able to remain connected with his father after the “selection process,” where the Nazis chose who would work and who would be sent directly to be killed, and throughout their traumatic experience they are moved from Birkeneau to Auschwitz and then to Buna. Wiesel details through his narrative the horrible living conditions he and his fellow prisoners had to deal with in the camps, on their marches through blizzards and during their transport in loaded train. Elie is a strong teen, and he is able to persevere with the help of his father. He constantly fights the urges to leave his father behind and only look out for himself, keeping the shred on humanity that he can hold onto.
We are able to see these horrific conditions, including the guard’s brutality toward the prisoners, the lack of any quality food to sustain health, the constant fear from each and every prisoner, and more. Wiesel shares all of this by detailing his experience with his father; what they witnessed and endured together. After following their journey it is easy to understand the hardship and changes that the concentration camps forced in all that occupied. Wiesel shows us the dehumanization of Jews by the Nazis and how their entire lives were stripped from them. Elie’s powerful words make us look back at these events, remembering the toll they took on humanity and vow to never let them happen again.
Night has been one of the best books I have read. It is one of those books that I don’t want to keep reading, to save myself of the guilt and pain I feel from hearing of Wiesel’s experiences, but I must. I am constantly amazed by the strength Wiesel showed from this experience and his ability to persevere in the face of unthinkable hatred and unbelievable odds.
"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
The physical, mental and spiritual stress portrayed in this book to the breaking point - to extinction - make us wonder where in the continuum of human endurance we fit as individuals.
And sadly, you wonder, is hearing the truth of the past enough to change how we relate to each other in the future? Many Jews were warned ahead of time and yet did not believe.
This book is a classic of Holocaust literature, and should be required reading. I've read it several times now and it hasn't lost any of its power...to the contrary, I find more meaning in it every time.
If this were the first and only Holocaust memoir I had read, I would have rated it highly. But I read Night just after Primo Levi's memoirs, and it pales in comparison. Published around ten years after Levi's If This Is a Man, I expected more. But what truly irks me is dishonesty. Night came about after many iterations: first the original 860-page Yiddish, then a 260-page truncated version, third a 180-page French version; and finally 115-page English translation. Critics say that what's lost in translation is in fact a change in emphasis from a Yiddish account for Jewish readers attacking Germans to a French translation aimed at Christians more critical of God than the Nazi regime. To me the message and impact of such a work should be universal: there's no need to edit for readership, and it's disappointing this has likely happened here.
Levi describes events and characters as they are, while Wiesel dwells on his personal journey in an evocative fashion designed for maximum impact. The pace of Wiesel's narrative is fast, detail somewhat lacking, the dialogue likely fictional. Wiesel himself has admitted Night incorporates fictional elements. In my opinion, invest some more time to tackle If This Is a Man, or another recommended Holocaust memoir, and return to Night for a more emotional journey, or to complete an Oprah Book Club challenge.
So, it's not the kind of book you want to read when you're feeling down or having a bad day. Essentially, it's a personal account of a Holocaust survivor's experience in the Nazi death camps... and after reading it, I'd say it's a miracle that anyone survived at all.
My mother-in-law actually asked me to read the book because her father (my husband's grandfather) was in and survived the final camp that Wiesel describes in this book -- the one that he was liberated from. I believe my husband's grandfather was among the group of children/young teens freed when the Americans came into the camp (I hope I'm remembering this right).
Anyway, from that side of things it amazed me to know that I know anyone who went through this and survived. On the other hand, it horrified me to know that someone would have to live through it.
It's a quick read, but an important read. I certainly hope that we don't ever lose sight of what happened -- even though for my generation and the ones that come after, it's going to be far too easy to brush aside, since the personal connection is no longer there (or is tenuous at best). I'd recommend that adults share this with their children (the ones old enough to handle it, that is... some scenes are fairly horrifying, so some creative editing may still be in order) and talk about what happened and why it happened.
A final point of interest for me in the book was Wiesel's spiritual journey. He describes how he lost his own strong faith throughout what happened, and how many other Jews in the camps with him felt their own faith in God slip away. I'd love to read more of Wiesel's writing to see what's happened with his spiritual beliefs in the years since his experience.
Simply put, you must read this book. Your children must read this book, and your children's children. We cannot ever, ever, ever forget.
For one year, Spring of 1944 to Spring of 1945, the 14-year-old Eliezer Wiesel experienced the kind of nightmare that no person should – living in the enforced ghettoes in Hungary, traveling in cattle trains with little food, water, sanitation, and moving through multiple concentration camps. While many of us know about these atrocities through other readings, what makes “Night” different is the unveiling of the human fallacies associated with such tragedies. The shame – Elie ignoring his father’s calls to him during his final delusional moments dying from dysentery, Elie feeling that certain amount of freedom knowing he doesn’t need to care for his father anymore, the pastor’s son who left him in the mix of the crowds during transport, the son who killed his father over a mouth of bread and was in term killed himself. The struggle with faith – Elie and others, including a rabbi, questioning their God, their faith, “…why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled.” The ignorance and false optimism – the ghettoes are for their protection; the transport would take them somewhere safe. The harsh reality so raw – “Our eyes opened. Too late.” “You should have hanged yourself rather than come here.” “True. We didn’t know. Nobody told us.”
I was extremely touched by the love of his father. “But seeing that his advice had come too late, and that there was nothing left of my ration, he didn’t even start his own. ‘Me, I’m not hungry,’ he said.” Forbid him from fasting for Yom Kippur, survival first, faith can wait. Kept him awake from sleeping in the snow – a certain death; “Don’t let yourself be overcome by sleep, Eliezer. It’s dangerous to fall asleep in snow. One falls asleep forever.” Fearing he had been selected, he forced on Eliezer his last two personal items – a spoon and a knife – “My inheritance…” I felt brief anger at the fifteen year old Elie who felt ‘freed’, even if momentarily, from his father, the father who had protected him every way he can throughout these sufferings. The father, whose one real mistake, was not fleeing, that he’s too old to start over, his generation who just didn’t know and didn’t flee.
This is an excerpt from Mr. Wiesel’s 1986 speech in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize:
“…I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at the moment – become the center of the universe.”
With democracy declining in the U.S. and around the world, this passage is more important than ever. The aggressors’ boldness grows, with anti-semantic graffiti found on Mr. Wiesel’s Romania home a day ago. Never forget!
A note about the edition: If you’re buying used books, buy one that is translated by Marion Wiesel, his wife. It corrects mistakes from previous translations and expresses Mr. Wiesel’s thoughts more accurately.
I highly recommend this book.
The community is tightly knit and, you get the impression, quite insulated from the outside world; the war is a faraway thing, even when the foreign Jews are rounded up and deported from the town. One of them, Wiesel’s friend Moishe the Beadle, returns to warn the town of the danger of the Nazis, but nobody listens. By this time it is 1944, and the community is sure that the war will soon be over and they will be safe.
Inevitably, the German army arrives and the restrictions begin, then the displacement of the Jews from one ghetto to another. And yet still the community is optimistic. Looking at these scenes with historical hindsight made me want to scream alongside Moishe the Beadle – how could these people be so unaware? And yet it’s human nature to hope…
Of course they are transported to the camps. And of course what follows is a nightmare of separation, deprivation, starvation and brutality. Wiesel reports it all so simply; there’s an almost flat, unemotional quality to his writing that makes it quite possible to read unemotionally, even at the poignant moment when he watches his mother and younger sister walk away in the opposite direction, never to be seen again.
The aspect of this book that most deeply impressed me was the devotion of the Jews to God, even as they wondered where He was in all this horror. Even Wiesel, who professes to turn his back on a God who would let such things happen, constantly refers to Him even as he denies Him. There's much to be learned from the people in this book.
Wiesel sketches the brutalities he suffered and saw very sparely, without much detail. What he tells is enough. He moves the reader swiftly from day to day, week to week as the inmates are moved farther away from the liberating Allies. Then suddenly the narrative slows down to encompass the death of Wiesel’s father, and you can truly feel the numbness of the brutalized teenage boy who is barely able to feel compassion through his hunger. It’s powerful stuff. Then the story moves swiftly again, through the liberation of the camps, and ends with Wiesel looking at himself in a mirror – the face of a corpse. “The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.” Was this the first time he envisaged writing a story that had himself as its main character?
What can you say to such memories? I feel as if I’m writing a summary rather than a review, because the only possible response to this story is respect. Yet the writing has much to commend it – this edition is a new translation by Wiesel’s wife, and the writing is clear, simple, direct and immediate. I give this book the “life-changing” tag simply because it is a familiar horror story seen from the inside. Survivors of such events are rarely able to speak of them, so it is a privilege to listen to a man who did not spare himself from the task of writing his story.