Night by Elie Wiesel is a book about his personal experiences during World War II in the Nazi death camps. The story is stark, as barren and jagged as the barbed wire confining him to the brutal realities of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Elie’s parents and other Jewish leaders in a Romanian town, Sighet, refuse to believe the stories that an escaped Jew tells of German death camps. They soon regret their disbelief and squandering an opportunity to escape when Germany sweeps through Romania, loading up the Jews first in ghettos, then in trains, and at last in concentration camps to work and die.
The burdens of torture, starvation, and cruelty, of life in the death camps, wears Elie down. Even his father’s suffering is only a muted roar to his own misery. Even after liberation, life is never the same. How can it be when you witness the worst in humanity and yourself?
The book wasn’t as moving as Anne Frank’s Diary, but it’s brutally honest. Elie doesn’t make excuses for himself, and that’s refreshing.
Elie (or Eliezer in this book) is just 13 when he’s taken with his family to Auschwitz. While his mother and sisters are taken to the gas chambers, Elie and his father are headed to forced labor. This begins the process of a break down of his faith in God and goodness.
Elie’s father helps Elie remain strong even while he suffers, one of the few individuals who retains his identity until the very end.
The book starts out in Romania, then quickly continues on to Auschwitz. For about nine months Elie and his father labor and starve. However, by January of 1945, The Red Army is closing in, so the Germans force the prisoners to march to Buchenwald. It’s here, four months later, where Elie and all the others in camp are liberated by the United States Third Army.
As I said earlier, the writing is stark and angry and more powerful for it. However, there’s so little redemption, so little hope even with the liberation, that it’s hard to read:
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
See what I mean? Beautiful and stark and hopeless.
This is an important book to read for the light it shines on the Holocaust, but it’s also hard to read. I’m saddened for all that was lost. But I’m mostly saddened that there was so little good in the end. This isn’t Anne Frank’s belief that people are mostly good, this is the murder of all belief in good. While it’s a powerful story, an honest one, it lacks that thing that makes even the saddest tale worthwhile: hope.
Because there’s always something to hope for. Always.