Tucked away in the border town of Sighet in Romania, Elie Wiesel and his fellow Jews heard rumors of the atrocities being committed by the German army throughout the early years of WWII, but they couldn't quite bring themselves to believe it was true or that the Germans would ever reach them. In the spring of 1944, the Germans did come and after being rounded up and briefly forced to live in ghettos, the entire Jewish population of the town was transported to concentration camps. At the time, Elie was only fifteen. He and his whole family were sent to Auschwitz where his mother and little sister perished. Elie and his father struggled to remain alive and together. Night chronicles their desperate fight for survival in the camps over the next year until finally being liberated.
Night is a gripping first-person narrative of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel chronicles his life from the time the German soldiers invaded his hometown and started gathering the Jews together in ghettos through his experiences in several different concentration camps, including the notorious Auschwitz and Buchenwald, until he and his fellow prisoners were liberated. This relatively short volume packs a powerful emotional wallop that goes straight into the reader's soul. I didn't even realize how deeply it was affecting me until I spent a restless night, having bad dreams after finishing it, and yet, I think every person should pick this up at least once in their lifetime. I didn't feel that most of the story was rendered in a particularly graphic way. It's more the edge-of-your-seat tension and the fact that I have a pretty well-developed imagination that made this book so intense for me. My teenage son, however, seemed to have no trouble reading it for his literature class. Each reader's reaction will vary depending on their ability to distance themselves from the subject matter.
When the story opens, I was struck by how the Jews in Mr Wiesel's hometown didn't believe the reports of a man who had escaped from the Nazis. They either dismissed him as a madman or refused to believe that the Nazis would make it to their town. I guess perhaps it's human nature to not be able to fathom acts of such barbarism. I found it ironic that when the German soldiers did finally come to town, they temporarily lodged in the homes of some Jews and even treated them nicely, just before carting them off to the concentration camps. Once in the camps, it was strange how some of their fellow prisoners in supervisory positions could sometimes be nearly as cruel as the SS officers themselves. It was also very sad how family members could sometimes turn on one another. Even Mr. Wiesel confessed to occasionally having thoughts of survival possibly being easier for him if he didn't have the responsibility of his father to care for. Existence in the camps became nothing more than a desperate fight for individual survival in which family ties often were rendered meaningless.
Through Mr. Wiesel's simple, yet powerful words, I was able to gain a small sense of the sheer terror that he and the other thousands of prisoners in the concentration camps must have experienced. Stark fear emanates off the pages every time there was a selection or some other threat to their lives, as does the anger, especially at God for not putting a stop to such evil. Mr. Wiesel speaks very poignantly about loosing his faith in God after the atrocities he witnessed. He writes of how one of his first experiences in the camps was seeing babies and children burned alive and that it still haunts him, and I can certainly understand why. The mere image his words evoked in my mind deeply affected me as well and is something I would never want to witness first hand. It's no wonder he tried to trick himself into believing they were already dead, because the mind simply cannot cope with things like this that are too horrific to logically understand. The last days in the camps before liberation finally arrived and the death of Elie's father are very vividly rendered. I could feel the sense of hopelessness permeating the air, and how many simply gave up on life and couldn't go on, even though they could hear the sounds of the Russian army advancing on the German front.
Night is written essentially as a series of short vignettes of the author's experiences, which is more consistent with how one would expect a person's memory to be. There are some details he deliberately chose to leave out, such as his state of mind after his father died, which I can fully respect, but there were a couple of other omissions that were mildly disappointing, eg. it's clear that his father, mother, and little sister died, but he doesn't overtly tell what became of his other two sisters (I found out via the Internet that they also survived). However, this was a minor thing in another otherwise incredibly stirring and eloquent story of survival against all odds. I would characterize this book as a must read for everyone from mature teens on up. It is my fervent belief that in order to not repeat the horrific events of the past, we must never forget them, and one way to keep these memories alive is to explore the stories of those who prevailed against this oppressive evil.
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