Night by Elie Wiesel: a painful autobiographical writing on the life in the Nazi concentration camps, a powerful narrative on life, death and identity

Elie Wiesel, Night. Translated from the French by Marion Wiesel. In limba romana: Noaptea. Editura Corint, 2012

Published 2006 by Hill and Wang (first published 1958), 120p

 

Elie Wiesel at home in New York, March 29, 1981. (Jim Wilson.The New York Times)
Elie Wiesel at home in New York, March 29, 1981. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.

I remember he asked his father, “Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?

Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech in 1986. The fragment perfectly captures the essence of Night, an intense writing about his traumatic experience as a young Jewish prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps. Night is about the horrific conditions in the camps, about the terror of living in the proximity of death and above all about one’s loss of identity shortly after becoming a prisoner.

Elie was a teenager living with his parents and his three sisters in Sighet, Romania when in 1944 deportation of Jews began in their community as well.

Crammed into cattle cars by the Hungarian police, they cried silently. Standing on the station platform, we too were crying. The train disappeared over the horizon; all that was left was thick, dirty smoke. Behind me, someone said, sighing, “What do you expect? That’s war…”

Night will shortly become a symbol of their existence – the last night at home, the last night in one ghetto, the last night in another ghetto, the last night before death… How much longer would our lives be lived from one ‘last night’ to the next?

Elie’s description of the life in the camps is a powerful combination of a young boy’s innocence and hope with the despair of losing his family, his dreams and his standards. His talent as a writer, the passion of his words, his ambition to speak and let people know how war kills dreams and people make the book a cruel but beautiful manifesto.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the 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. Never.

The moment Elie eneterd Auschwitz he was separated from his mother and his three sisters (never to see again his mother and Tzipora, his youngest sister as they were immediately directed to the gas chamber) but he was allowed to stay together with his father. As a prisoner he became a number that was tattooed on his left arm: A-7713. From then on he had no name, no age, no identity; he was just a number to be called when lists were checked.

At that moment in time, all that mattered to me was my daily bowl of soup, my crust of stale bread. The bread, the soup – those were my entire life. I was nothing but a body. Perhaps even less: a famished stomach. The stomach alone was measuring time.

Wiesel describes the atrocious conditions in the concentration camps, the starvation, the indifference of the supervisors to their suffering, the struggle to survive. Dressed in rags the prisoners would fight for food or possessions. His dreams and beliefs died and the relation with his father deteriorated while he struggled to remain alive. Shameful, Elie admitted that once his father became weak and ill he was a burden and Elie felt relieved when his parent died. He had no more faith in humanity and in God.

Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because he kept six crematoria working day and night., including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in furnaces? Praised be Thy Holy Name, for having chosen us to be slaughtered on Thine altar?

[…]

I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long.

Elie Wiesel claims that history cannot be changed nor forgotten. What I saw in this book was not only a great talent, a wonderful narrator, but also a writer who wants readers of all nations to understand and mostly visualize the atrocities of a war. Children should not be sacrificed for the mistakes, disagreements and political views of their guardians.

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