For my WWII reading class, we just finished Night by Elie Wiesel. A few of my students had already read it, but I would rather have a few read it again than any students not read it. If you are unaware of Night, it is the autobiographical account of a young 14-year-old Wiesel and his trials and eventually triumph over the Holocaust. In this short account, Wiesel will lose his mother, sister, and eventually his father to the camps. There are many accounts of this horrific time, but there is something special about Night. I think it is his honesty. Not only did he lose his family, but at some moments he even lost his God. One haunting line was, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.” One of the most interesting conversations we had last evening was about the subject of God. He had to battle with the idea that every believer has to battle, why does God let bad things happen? We have all had that battle, but in his case, it is easy to understand why he lost his faith. Yet, at the same time, he never really did lose it. If anything, this story is a story of faith.
The other profound discussion was his honesty on his relationship with his father. He loved his father with all his being, but yet when put in the worst possible circumstances he also found he hated his father at times. Once when his father was being beaten Wiesel said, “What was more, any anger I felt at that moment was directed, not against the Kapo, but against my father. I was angry with him, for not knowing how to avoid Idek’s outbreak. That is what concentration camp life made of me.” Finally, when his father did die, he felt ashamed that the burden of him was lifted. Just like with God, Wiesel truly did love his father. As he said in the quote, he never really gave up on God or loved his father less, it was the Holocaust that made them this way. One of the major themes was what can happen to anyone when humanity is taken away.
Finally, Wiesel wrote this as a warning, that we must be ever vigilant. I think one of the most powerful lines came early in the book when the Jews in Wiesel’s camp were questioning the existence of the Final Solution, “Was he going to wipe out a whole people? Could he exterminate a population scattered throughout so many countries? So many millions! What methods could he use? And in the middle of the twentieth century!” I think we all think this way. There is no way that something like this can happen now, this stuff happened in the past. What Wiesel said is yes it can, if we let it. We must always remember the Holocaust and the lessons it taught. In that vein If you have not read Night, you should. Everyone should.