I had read other books about the Holocaust, but never Night, Elie Wiesel’s memoir about being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II. The New York Times calls it “a slim volume of terrifying power” and I couldn’t agree more.
In 1944, Wiesel was deported by the Germans from his town of Sighet, Transylvania and sent by cattle train to Auschwitz and later Buchenwald. He was just a teenager. His account of this experience is a horrifying reminder of a terrible period of history. When the first of many “selections” began, Elie and his father were separated from his mother and sister. Being put in the wrong group meant certain death, but those who were chosen to work suffered brutal physical conditions and vicious psychological terror.
Wiesel’s account also details his questions of faith. When his father whispered prayers, Wiesel could not. He writes, “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.” He also explains how desperate and selfish thoughts ran through his mind and how he felt burdened by guilt over these feelings. He and his father, separated at times, still held onto and drew strength from each other. But as his father weakened, Wiesel felt an agonizing conflict between love, duty and survival.
After a brutal death march to Buchenwald, in horrible winter conditions, Wiesel and his father were exhausted and nearly-starved. As his father grew weaker, Wiesel tried desperately to keep him alive. His father endured dysentery and exhaustion, but he succumbed to beatings by SS guards. Just a few weeks later, Wiesel was freed by the Americans. He was sixteen years old.
Night was first published in English in 1960, but earlier versions were published in Yiddish and French. His single goal in writing Night was to remind the world that such a terrible history should never repeat itself. He later said, “I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead, and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.”
Wiesel lived in France after World War II and eventually moved to America. He has received many awards for his work, including the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. He is Andrew Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
Thank you to the following sources:
The My Hero Project – Celebrate the best of humanity.
Front and back cover of the above Night publication.
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