Thursday, May 06, 2010

Night, Elie Wiesel

I'm not sure there are enough words in the English language to describe the horror, sadness, and desolation that is contained in the 109 pages of Night, Elie Wiesel's memoir of his time in the concentration camps.

In 1944, Germany is clearly losing World War II, and Hitler has escalated his plan to exterminate the Jews.  German troops begin to go into areas previously left pretty well alone, and round up Jews from the small towns in the countryside.  Wiesel's family, along with all of their neighbors, are rounded up and sent to Auschwitz.  Being loaded into boxcars, traveling for days with little food and water, watching the weak die, and being separated from this mother and sister, while terrible enough, was nothing compared to the horrors that confronted him and his father at the camp.

The most striking thing about this book was the spare language that Wiesel uses, and the complete heartwrenching sadness I felt while reading it.  Wiesel packs a lot of emotional wallop into a small number of pages.  I think that the fact that he writes about his experiences in the way that he does only adds to the mood of devestation and tragedy.  Frankly, the horrors of the camp don't need elaborate language or vivid metaphor.  A stark retelling is all that is needed to see the terrible price that those in the camps paid for the world's inability to stop the evil that was Hitler before he became powerful enough to wreak such destruction.  Perhaps the most chilling thing about Wiesel's story is how quickly the men he was imprisoned with became used to the deplorable conditions in which they found themselves.  Every day that they were not sent to the furnaces was a relief-they only had to go to their physically demanding and dangerous jobs where they were forced to work on little or no food, sick or injured, in the heat or freezing cold, to be abused and demeaned by the guards.  In the end I was left feeling that had the Russians not liberated the camps when they did, Wiesel and the rest of the prisoners would have eventually been worn away by brutality to nothing-no emotion, no intellect, no humanity left.

9 comments:

  1. I have always wanted to read this, and for whatever reason I just haven't prioritised it. It is already on my wish list, but I will add a link to your review next to it. Thanks for reminding me that this special book is out there waiting for me to read it.

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  2. I So appreciate the courage of those who survived the camps and wrote to tell us of the inhumanity they suffered. I pray with them that we never forget. I want to recommend as a book to be read as a companion to Wiesel's Night. That is Dr Victor Frankle's Man's Search for Meaning. He also survived the horrors of the Holocaust & is able to describe what people went through. I re-read this book at least once a year. He tells of a phenomenon that gives me such hope. He says that even in these circumstances, many people were able to exhibit their own humanity, generosity & grace. He proposes that we can all be masters of our environments & surroundings by changing our perceptions...changing our minds. No matter what they did to some people, there were still some who graciously let others go first, gave their last crust of bread or gave comfort to the ill or dying among them. Of course, many were not able to do this but the fact that anyone could is amazing to me. It never ceases to give me a renewed faith in our ability to change our lives for the better. Perhaps this is how Anne Frank was able to end her autobiography with her belief in people as basically good.

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  3. Funny you should mention that book-I just read a review of it yesterday on GoodReads. I was browsing the lists and it looked interesting. I agree about the amazing acts of kindness, courage, and bravery that many exhibited during that dark time. The fact that anyone at all was able to see beyond their own moment-to-moment survival is a testament to humanity.

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  4. I found the most shocking part when Elie stopped caring if his father lived or not. It's so sad how all the cares go away after suffering for so long.

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  5. I wanted to suggest you a book to read, but I don't know where else to write you the suggestion, so here it is: The Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet (I read the translation by A.M. Sheridan Smith). It was published in 1923, so I think that'd make it a classic. But I thought it was very well written and the story was excellent (and it's really short too), especially how it was protrayed by the 16 year old male's point of view. I don't know if you've read it yet. It's about a 16 year old's affair with an older girl. I was really impressed by the prose and the character's thoughts. Apparently it's based on the author's own affair probably at that age.

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  6. SH-thanks for the suggestion! I'll look it up.

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  7. I want to read this one. Thanks for the review.

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  8. I just read this book too. It is staggering isn't it that these atrocities happened in our very recent history. It is inconceivable, and yet terrifyingly true. To me this is one of those books that every one should read. These stories must never be forgotten.

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  9. I literally, could not put this book down. I read through it in two hours flat. It is very interesting to get the perspective of a teenager (similar to my age) in this time period. It was so... real. Every one of Elie's emotions were clearly conveyed and through his description, I feel like I really got a feel for what his father was like too. From the moment Elie and his family were forced into the first ghetto the the moment Elie's father dies, I was holding back tears. Such a riveting book. A must read for anyone who is interested in the holocaust.

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