Night (1960) is a moving, poignant autobiographical account of the zenith of Holocaust by Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate. The brief but powerful account covers the story of Wiesel in his teenage when he was separated from his mother and sisters and was accompanied by his father to concentration camps. The narration is simple, yet effective. The words do not involve jargon yet they make you an active participant of the events. In this post, I will talk about this book which forces you to question justice, liberty, religion and above all, humanity.
This book is of interest for
- History buffs
- Those interested in history of holocaust
- World history students
Premise of the book
“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 those thing, even were I condemned to live as long as God himself.
Almost all of us would have read Anne Frank’s diary in our school or college. The story, the description sends a powerful message about the days, the Holocaust. The memories are tough to comprehend. How could purity of a nation and hyper nationalism mean so much that millions of Jews, disables, and others were killed at sight.
Night is also a very powerful description of what used to happen in the “concentration camps”. The author takes it as a responsibility to talk about the events, to write them so that future generations can know about the injustice done in the peak of Holocaust. To write in detail so that no attempt at erasing this history can be fruitful.
The story opens with the author, in his early teens living happily with his Jewish family, until they are transported to a ghetto. Abandoning one’s own place can never be easy.
Open rooms everywhere. Gaping doors and windows looked out into the void. It all belonged to everyone since it no longer belonged to anyone.
From then on, they are transported to another ghetto where cattle cars come to pick them. They are being taken to a concentration camp, a live kiln with churns the body. On their way, a woman constantly reminds them,
“Jews, Look! Look at the fire! Look at the flame”
But instead of believing her, they all hit her head to keep her silent. The doubts around the claims are cleared once the cattle car reaches Birkenau.
In front of us, those flames. In the air, the smell of burning flesh. We had arrived. In Birkenau.
People are finding ways to survive, to save themselves from the flames. The disabled, children, elderly find no place in the priority list and they are soon exterminated. To stay alive, you have to be strong, physically and mentally. The author is separated from his sister and mother as soon as they reach Birkenau and the only wish that author has, is to stay close to his father. The mates are filled with fear, of being killed, of being thrown into the fire.
Someone began to recite kaddish , the prayer for the dead. I don’t know whether during the history of Jewish people, men have ever recited kaddish for themselves.
The mates are made to run anytime, those who couldn’t, are shot dead. They are beaten, abused aand humiliated anytime. These pain inflicted on humans makes the author to question the existence of God, does he even exist? When people remember God to allievate their pain, the author can think of nothing because his faith in God is long gone.
The days become so mundane that the only hope to continue life is to receive bread and soup. After being denied of any possession, the mates have only bread and soup as their possession. Fights and selfishness start happening over it.
A very moving account is given by the author, about Rabbi Eliahu. He comes to the author enquiring about his son, about his whereabouts. The author tells Rabbi that he hasn’t seen him. After he is gone, author remembers that he had seen his son running in the last march and his son had continued to run, letting the distance between him and his father increase.
A terrible thought crossed my mind: what if he had wanted to be rid of his father? He had felt his father growing weaker and believing his end was near, had thought by this separation to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own chance for survival.
Later, author’s father also becomes too sick to move and suffers from dysentery. The author does all the efforts to save him but all in vain, his father is nearing death. His strong cries attract the attention of SS who beats his father. The author does not dare to move because he is afraid of the blows.
I let the SS beat my father; I left him alone in the clutches of death. Worse: I was angry with him for having been noisy, for having cried, for provoking the wrath of SS.
I had not moved.
I shall never forgive myself.
His last word has been my name. A summons. And I had not responded.
The book covers stories from Bikenau, Auschwitz, Buna factory and Buchenwald. There are two more books in this trilogy which I plan to read soon.
The story ends with the death of author’s father and the brief description of what happened after the war came to an end.
The book is tough to read, emotionally. It questions the existence of humanity, God and introduces you to the basic instincts of beasts: the struggle for survival. The language used by the author is very interactive in nature. The sentences are very short and that increases the readability of the book manifolds. The words used are not very ornamental in nature but rather simple, to lead the focus of reader towards emotions of the book, and not over the language.
Have you read books about Holocaust? Let us know.