“Night,” by Elie Wiesel

Unlike many other books, it did not take me long to become riveted by Elie Wiesel’s “Night.”  (For the first quarter of the book, I read the first two chapters, or the first 26 pages in my edition of the novel.)  In only the first few pages, the author foreshadows the horrors of Nazi oppression with a moving account of a Jewish man surnamed “Moshe the Beadle.”  He describes how Moshe the Beadle was expelled from the area because he was a Jewish foreigner.  Although Moshe miraculously survived, he was scarred by the terrible experience of witnessing the Gestapo (German secret police) slaughter his fellow prisoners.  He himself only survived because he was thought to dead after being wounded in the leg.

The author continues to describe how Moshe the Beadle was permanently scarred: “Moshe had changed.  There was no longer any joy in his eyes.  He no longer sang.  He no longer talked to me of God or of the cabbala, but only of what he had seen” (4).

Instead of merely describing how terrifying and ghastly it was to be a Jew during the time of Hitler and the Nazis, Wiesel provides an example of a person who was forever changed by German cruelty.  The author shows instead of tells about these early experiences, and he does a masterful job of drawing the reader in and conveying his message.

“Night” is a short book, and it must be succinct for it to be considered such a powerful and moving piece of literature.  Even though I am only a quarter of the way in, I can tell why it has been so enduring; the way in which Wiesel gives such a personal and raw account of his experiences and suffering is what makes it so effective.  One such example is when the author and his family are beginning to leave their home: “My father wept.  It was the first time I had ever seen him weep.  I had never imagined that he could. As for my mother, she walked with a set expression on her face, without a word, deep in thought.  I looked at my little sister Tzipora, her fair hair well combed, a red coat over her arm, a little girl of seven.  The bundle on her back was too heavy for her.  She gritted her teeth.  She knew by now that it would be useless to complain” (16-17).

From what I have read so far, “Night” is such an inspiring novel because the author describes his experiences with so much emotion.  He does not need to explicitly explain his hatred of the Nazis, because the reader is able to feel it through the vividly dark tone throughout.  This tone is what has struck me the most so far in the novel; what has struck you, Nic?

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

9 responses to ““Night,” by Elie Wiesel

  1. nicq98

    I found that the first quarter of “Night” did an excellent job of conveying a feeling of doom and peril slowly approaching the main characters. Initially, in the book, things are normal enough; Wiesel describes Moishe the Beadle, his family, and regular Jewish life, then quite suddenly transitions to the deportation of foreign Jews from Sighet and the grisly tale Moishe tells upon his return. His townsfolk do not heed this warning, instead opting to continue on as they did before up until the city’s Jews are crammed into a ghetto. Even then, many are blissfully unaware of the horror awaiting them in the concentration camps and think that any day the Nazi infringement on their freedom will stop. Finally Wiesel describes the forced deportation of the town’s remaining Jews, including the himself, to Auschwitz. By starting with a normal situation and detailing the gradually increasing repression against the Jews in his hometown, he manages to create a build-up to his experiences in the camp that is much more effective than would be the case if Wiesel had simply started the narrative at the point when he departed his hometown.
    Also, I would certainly agree that the novel’s tone is compelling; in fact, the book was just so short and engaging that I found myself reading well over a third of it before stopping to write this post. The writing style seems very close in and focused on the story’s events, so much that it almost feels like the reader is right there with the author experiencing them. “Night” is definitely a book I shall enjoy reading over the course of this semester.

  2. Mark Yazhari

    That’s a good point, Nic. Wiesel does a particularly effective job of drawing the reader in by providing the reader with a transition from his peaceful and normal life to his abrupt deportation. He provides plenty of background information to get on a personal and raw level with the reader.

    I, too, could not help but read a bit past the first quarter of the book! It is very fast-paced and interesting; quite the page-turner! Perhaps what makes it so gripping is the author’s suspenseful narrative style. However, I have read books that are supposed to be suspenseful but come off as cheesy and forced. Wiesel is able to make his book suspenseful and not at all cheesy because he writes with sincerity. I’m sure he still has nightmares of his terrible experiences during the Holocaust, and all he had to do was put them onto paper.

    Now I don’t want to give the impression that it is easy to just put one’s ideas onto paper, even if they are convincing ones, because good writing requires much training and editing. I admire Wiesel for writing both sincerely and eloquently; so far, instead of just providing a plethora of disgusting examples of Jewish oppression, he conveys the terror of the Jews during the Holocaust through some of what he doesn’t say and through the many thought-provoking ideas he introduces.

    All in all, “Night” has already been a very gripping and interesting book. I am interested to see how it progresses and how it compares to “Man’s Search For Meaning.”

  3. Mark Yazhari

    Note: This blog post covers the third and fourth chapter of “Night,” up to page 62 in my edition of the book.

    With regard to his first night in the concentration camp, Wiesel expresses how emotionally scarred he was from that moment on: “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 that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. 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. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never” (32).

    This is a particularly powerful and passionate quote. The author’s deep hatred and heartbroken sadness are concisely illustrated in this short passage. These words foreshadow how terrible Wiesel’s experiences will be in the concentration camp. I am almost certain that he named his book “Night” from the idea of his life turning “one long night.”

    Wiesel has recounted his experiences in the concentration camps just as rivetingly as I anticipated. What has struck me the most is how inhuman many of the prisoners have become, solely from their experiences at camp. In one scene, the author recounts how a foreman named Franek demanded to have his golden crown: “This sympathetic, intelligent youth was suddenly no longer the same person. His eyes gleamed with desire” (52). Wiesel demonstrates how even people with good intentions can be warped by the desperate struggle for survival.

    When reading any book about the Holocaust, a question comes to mind: How is that I am so unbelievably lucky, and these people were so unbelievably unfortunate? In Lake Oswego, I have perhaps the most ideal life possible, but the Jews who were taken away from their homes and thrown in concentration or extermination camps were forced to endure unfathomable hardship. So I guess the greater question is this: Why do some people suffer more than others? This is a question that I have thought about a lot, and for a person who believes in justice, it deserves much consideration. No one would argue with the fact that, at least externally or materially, some people have better lives than others. There is no denying it. And I think that very few people would argue with the fact that some people endure more emotionally scarring lives than others. So how does justice exist?

    These questions require more discussion than a blog post, but in a nutshell, I have come to feel that there must be some form of compensation or continuation after death. In other words, human existence must be more than just what we experience in this world. I cannot fathom what exact form a heaven or future worlds would take, but I feel confident that our lives far transcend our death on this earth. These our really deep concepts, and I apologize for rambling on about them…what are your thoughts, Nic?

  4. nicq98

    Fascinating musings, I must say. I have also spent some time pondering that same issue of how justice could exist in a seemingly arbitrary universe in which some individuals are born into an easy life while others are destined for misery. A solid answer might never be forthcoming, yet the possibilities are interesting to consider. Some form of an afterlife or reincarnation is entirely possible, as you suggested, and could alleviate the moral issue of the injustice of material existence, but it may be equally likely yet unsettling to consider that this life is all that we get. In that case, if there is no great scheme of cosmic justice and situations like those of the concentration camp inmates are just bad luck, we humans must to the best of our ability create that justice ourselves.
    Tying back to “Night”, I found it rather unsettling how the concentration camp inmates were removed of dignity and treated by the SS as mere objects instead of people. One quote that illustrates this: “On the fourth day, as we stood in front of our tent, the Kapos appeared. Each one began to choose the men he liked: “You… you… you…” They pointed their fingers, the way one might choose cattle, or merchandise”(67). It just makes one wonder how so many otherwise good people were indoctrinated by the Nazi Party into viewing Jews as subhuman, unworthy of any decent treatment or compassion. One wouldn’t think it possible for such a massive, wide-ranging and systematic evil as the Holocaust to occur across an entire nation, but nevertheless that is what happened in Germany during World War II. It does indeed raise some deep questions about what humanity is really like on the inside.

  5. Mark Yazhari

    That’s a good point; the Holocaust does raise questions about the true nature of humanity. Are we as humans inherently bad and have to work to elevate ourselves to a higher level? Or are we inherently good but have the potential to cause great evil? I think the latter of the two is more accurate. While some of us end up leading terrible lives and causing great hardship, I think that we are all born with the potential to do much good in the world; in my opinion, we are all fundamentally noble.

    I would even argue further; as difficult as it may be to accept, I believe that all human beings are created one and the same, and that we are all interconnected. Now, this may seem ridiculous; after all, how can you compare someone as inspiring as Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi with someone as terrible as Hitler? Is it possible for Martin Luther King to be inherently the same as Hitler? I would argue yes, that we are all give an “empty slate” or innocence from birth, but each of us has the unique responsibility to do good and contribute something to the world. Obviously, some of us end up more successful than others, to say the least. But I still think that we are all created equal, even if some of us lead better lives than others. This deserves more discussion. What are your thoughts?

  6. nicq98

    I would agree that nobody is born evil, but some individuals might be corrupted later on or possess deficiencies in impulse control and empathy that could lead them to evil actions. It is fully possible for someone to, for example, become a murderer because he was born with antisocial personality disorder and has no sense of the moral value of others’ lives. Does that make him evil? Maybe. While making the conscious decision to take another’s life is a completely reprehensible action, if one’s ordinary moral restrictions are lowered by a disorder he did not choose to have it could greatly affect his guilt in the matter. The possibility that many if not most forms of evil action spring from mental illness is certainly an interesting one to consider.
    Relating more closely to “Night”, I found that Elie Wiesel seemed to use a much darker tone for the third quarter of the book than he used for the first half. Though you probably used a slightly different approximation, my third quarter segment of reading began with the protagonist being whipped and continued to the point where he and his father are marching off to another camp ahead of advancing Soviet forces. During the span of time between those events, the plot takes some of its darkest turns yet with two executions and the death of Akiba Drumer described in morbid detail. Though the first portion of “Night” was by no means lighthearted, there seems to be much more death and misery in this segment of the book which could lead up to an even darker final section. Would you agree with my assessment? What do you think about the direction of the plot?

  7. Mark Yazhari

    I completely agree with your analysis of the plot. The narrative becomes consistently darker and more disturbing with the passage of each chapter. Based upon what I have read in this book, it seems that the life of a Jewish prisoner in the concentration camps was a never-ending series of increasingly terrible experiences. How the Holocaust lasted for as many years as it did is astonishing.

    I thought that Wiesel effectively captured the idea of the Jewish prisoners’ seemingly endless torture in these few sentences: “The last night in Buna. Yet another last night. The last night at home, the last night in the ghetto, the last night in the train, and, now, the last night in Buna. How much longer were our lives to be dragged out from one ‘last night’ to another?” (79).

    How on earth did Wiesel survive his experiences? How did he not go insane and lose the will to live after everything he experienced? I think it all comes back to Victor Frankl’s analysis in “Man’s Search For Meaning” about how a person can become used to anything, and that the normal human reaction to extreme tribulation is numbness and loss of emotion. Without this defense mechanism, how could anyone traverse the horrors of the concentration camp?

    But I think there is more to it even than numbness of emotion. One of the author’s only lingering reasons to live is his father, for he feels that he is responsible for his father’s life as well as his own. To me, this demonstrates that there is more to a person’s life than his own self. Without being of service or loving others, we have no real reason to go on living. Once we get to the point in which we can only think about ourselves, we have essentially been lowered to the station of an animal, and our lives have lost all real meaning. Therefore, at this point, the main meaning that Wiesel can find in his life is probably his father, for that is all he really has left besides himself. What do you think about the issue?

  8. Mark Yazhari

    “Night,” by Elie Wiesel – 9 out of 10 stars

    The horrors of the Holocaust could not be more effectively portrayed than in Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” It provides an unidealized perspective of the dehumanization that took place regularly in the concentration camp, and it brings out disgust, anger, and sadness from the reader.

    “Night” never ceases to be gripping. I can think of no point in which I was ever bored reading it, even at the beginning. I am really glad to have read it, although I do not think that it would be appropriate to say that I “enjoyed” it, since it is deeply disturbing from beginning to end.

    What I have trouble fathoming is how the author was sane enough to write a novel after what he experienced at such a young age –Wiesel was beaten, starved, and forced to witness some of the greatest human atrocities ever committed. But he was not left unscarred – near the beginning of the book, he portrays the degree to which he was changed by his imprisonment: “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. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never” (32). Straight summaries of what transpired in the concentration camp are shocking enough. What makes Wiesel’s narrative so powerful is how he describes his experiences. He makes no effort to hide his emotions, and in doing so he provides the reader with a realistic perspective on not only what happened during the Holocaust, but how it physically and emotionally affected the Jewish prisoners. Wiesel reminds us that the concentration camp brought out the worst in even the best of prisoners.

    I would absolutely recommend “Night” as a gripping and personal account of one man’s journey amidst the agony of the Holocaust. It offers the reader a disturbing and unforgettable perspective on one of worst moments in human history.

  9. nicq98

    “Night”, by Elie Wiesel – 9 out of 10 stars

    I, personally, found “Night” to be a consistently engaging book throughout, though it was so short that I could probably have finished it in a single sitting. Elie Wiesel conveyed the sheer horror and inhumanity of the Holocaust with a degree of emotional impact and eloquence that I have witnessed in no other works relating to that time period, not even “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The book’s writing style and structure were both masterfully forged, such that it was almost as if the reader was accompanying Wiesel through the multitudinous trials and tribulations of the Nazi concentration camps.
    “Night”‘s greatest success was, in my opinion, in providing a remarkable insight into the atrocities of the Holocaust and the darkest depths of human nature. Perhaps the singular most horrifying event in history is brought to light by Wiesel’s writing. Though the events described in the book were quite awful, I feel that I am better off for reading it considering that I learned so much. I would certainly recommend “Night” to almost anyone, excepting perhaps children and those with squeamish tendencies, because of the deep and thought-provoking questions it poses about human nature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s