Night: A Book of the Holocaust by Elie Wiesel
I recently re-read a book by Elie Wiesel, titled "Night". It's a little book--only 115 pages. Oh, but such a powerful book! I can't forget the images it brought to my mind. Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Prize in 1986, not for literature, surprisingly, but for Peace.
"Night" by Elie Wiesel, is a true story of the author, a Holocaust survivor. He was fifteen when he and his father were sent to the camps. He tells his story so well, with such a true and powerful voice. It's an unforgettable story.
"Night" is the right title for this book.
Elie Wiesel and his family lived in Transylvania, in a beautiful little town near the border of Romania. It was a bucolic, peaceful place with a strong contigent of Jewish families living there. Elie was a scholar, a Talmudic scholar. He originally wrote this book in Yiddish.
Elie tells of how the Jewish people of the town refused to believe that they were at risk, even though a foreign national Jew from the town was transported to a camp, escaped, and came back to tell everyone of the Jewish community to flee what was coming.
Elie begged his father to flee to Zion (Israel), which was a newly created country at that time.
His father refused, saying, "What? It's 1945. How much longer can this war last? I listen to the BBC broadcasts and Germany is losing the war. They can't be bothered by a little town way out here in Middle Europe."
His father's attitude was typical of the attitude of most of the Jewish people in the town. They had proceeded thus far mostly unmolested during the Occupation. Why flee? Why leave their homes and lives and businesses behind, in a (probably unnecessary) panic?
It was still daylight, then.
Everybody heard the stories. Nobody could believe them. It seemed so insane. How could anybody do this, this wholesale murder, wholesale torture? It seemed a piece of craziness that surely must be exaggerated.
Well, it wasn't too long after that the people found out.
First, they were relocated to a ghetto and isolated from the non-Jewish residents. They had to wear the yellow stars. They thought, "It's not so bad here, we can live." They sort of liked living in an exclusively Jewish community. It gave them a feeling of solidarity, and there was no one to spit on them for being Jewish--they were ALL Jewish.
Then, they were sent to a camp. They were told to bring food and changes of clothes, and to give up all their valuables. It was now illegal for a Jewish person to own gold or jewelry, or anything valuable, and if anything valuable was found on a Jewish person, that person would be shot.
They boarded the cattle cars, 80 persons to one cattle freight car. The men and boys were also separated at this time from the women and girls. Elie's family was separated--he and his father went in one car, his mother and sisters in another, and they didn't know what happened to each other. Their sufferings on the cattle car were frightful. They were so crowded; there was so little air. Their food ran out quickly; from that they suffered; but they suffered even more from lack of water, and utter lack of sanitary facilities. The cars paused periodically so they could toss out the dead bodies.
They came to the camps, where they were beaten, starved and forced to work.
Elie tells of being moved to a different camp. There were 100 person per car, they were so skinny now. When they got to the destination (Auschwitz), there were twelve people left. Twelve people, out of the hundred that boarded the car!
He also tells of his arrival at the first camp. He came so near death, right from the outset! The new inductees were compelled to march toward a burning ditch. He came within four feet of this ditch of flames, and discovered that the Nazis were pitching all the children, live, into this ditch of flames, to be burned to death. Had it not been for a veteran prisoner, who told him to lie about his age, and say he was eighteen, he might also have been flung into the ditch.
Elie says at this time, seeing the babies flung into the burning ditch, he lost God.
It was "Night" now. The sun had gone out for the Jews.
Elie Wiesel did survive. He became a journalist in Paris after the war. He went on to write over 50 books, the most notable of them being "Night", the true story of the holocaust. He was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor, and honorary knighthood of the British Empire, and, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1976, he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.
This is part of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
"I have tried to keep the memory alive, because if we forget,we are accomplices...How naïve we were. The world did know, and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim....Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must become the center of the universe.
Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. How can one not be sensitive to their plight?
We don't want "Night" to fall again, for any class of people.