Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 4 Sep 2010
In 1944, when Moshe the Beadle miraculous escaped from a German massacre of Jews, instead of running away and hide, he returned to his home city of Sighet in Hungary (originally Romanian; annexed by Hungary in 1940) to warn his fellow Jews. People thought he was mad. People simply could not accept the fact that people were capable of committing such atrocities on such a grand scale. Thus began Elie Wiesel's famous work, Night.
The book was Wiesel's story of the Holocaust as he had seen it. The book was short; in the audio book edition that I had "read", the volume was only four CDs, and after a quick look on the web I discovered that the print edition was just over 100 pages. Similar to most other works on the memory of captivity, the events were told in a very fragmented manner, with many stories focusing as much as emotions as fact, and leaving me wonder whether certain events were told out of order. Even if it did, of course, it would not have mattered, at least not in a significant manner. In whichever sequence, the experiences he lived through was that of inhumanity, one that some human beings were somehow able to force upon others. The author and the translator's simple yet powerful words described the experience hauntingly, regardless of whether the things being described was as major as the death march out of Auschwitz Concentration Camp or as minor as a fellow inmate telling him that he had to endure the task of placing his death father's remains into the crematorium. All the clips of memory that he had of this painful period in his life were told in such concise and straight-forward ways that I found his attitude to be almost distant and detached. Yet, beyond the apparent aloofness, I could not deny feeling the hopelessness, the anger, the apathy, and the natural urge for survival all conflicting inside his mind. While he fought to survive the physical tortures of concentration camp life, the book was more so about the mental tortures that he had to endure in order to survive.
Beyond the Holocaust itself, Night was also about Wiesel's own struggle with religion. Prior to it all, he was a deeply religious Jew looking to begin deeper studies into Jewish mysticism despite his young age. Through his experience of the Sighet ghetto, Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and the death march out of Auschwitz for Buchenwald, he gradually lost his faith in god. When fellow Jewish inmates celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, in captivity, he refused to say prayers that honored god and refused to fast.
He further added, "[m]y eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man." When he had witnessed the guards hanging a boy around his own age, he overheard another prisoner murmuring to himself, asking where god was. Wiesel answered the question in his own mind: "He is hanging here on the gallows".
His experience not only caused him to lose faith in god, but also led him to doubt humanity. Deprive of food, he had witnessed fathers, including his own, selflessly sacrificing the little rations they had to benefit their sons, but some of these fathers were rewarded only by their sons abandoning them in their greatest moments of need. Even Wiesel had a fleeting thought that, when he had lost sight of his father after arriving in Buchenwald, that if his had disappeared perhaps he would have a better chance of survival. This very thought, however fleeting, would cause him to feel guilty for the rest of his life.
I echo a coworker's notion when I told him I was about to start listening to the audio book edition of this book: "Night should be required reading for every high school student."
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944