Disclaimer: I won’t call this a typical book review. I have only penned here what I felt after reading the book.
I was a Holocaust ignorant, until 2 years back when I saw a BBC documentary of the ariel view of Auschwitz which was shot using a drone. The sheer numbness that spread through me watching that video has stayed with me. After that whenever I heard the word Holocaust, those images and the barren coldness returned to me.
Living in India, our history subjects never really elaborated on Hitler or his dictatorship. In my country, Hitler and Nazi, these words are mostly used to describe strict people in a comic way. After I have come to know about Holocaust, I tread with caution before I use these words. And I feel others should too.
Reading Night by Elie Weisel (a Holocaust survivor) made me realize how desensitized I have been. This book brings me back to my senses, makes me hate how cold hearted I have been. And it did it not by some overly dramatic rendition of the horrors of life in a concentration camp but more by the lack of it.
The book contains a most mundane and straightforward description of what happened during the year the author was imprisoned. And my reaction wasn’t something like a punch to the gut, but more confused. For me, it was inconceivable that those words didn’t hit me like bullet shots but were like a normal retelling of the day-to-day events. The sheer lack of extreme pain in those words was something that really made me shudder and be at a loss for words. Even a clear thought process.
“I would pause at every sentence, and start over and over again. I would conjure up other verbs, other images, other silent cries. It still was not right. But what exactly was “It”? “It” was something elusive, darkly shrouded for fear of being usurped, profaned. All the dictionary had to offer seemed meager, pale lifeless.”
His description of his last encounter with his mother and little sister:
“An SS came towards us wielding a club. He commanded: “Men to the left! Women to the right!” Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words. Yet that was the moment when I left my mother.”
Words. The power they can hold is devastating. Yes, not a new thought, not an original one, yet so true nonetheless. Buna. Buchenwald. Mengele. Auschwitz. Words, but ones that incite something within. Creeps. Nausea Fear.
I once saw the interview of a Holocaust survivor. I saw the fading tattoo on their wrinkling arm. And after reading Night I thought about him again. I realized what he was. I realized what his life was. He was witness to history’s most unfathomable event. Something which made me rethink about being pissed off at the tiniest of situations.
I don’t think I will ever meet a survivor. All I have, all we have are books like Night and Anne Frank which will have to serve as an education, a reminder that this, in fact, did happen and that it is cruel and moronic and downright irresponsible to believe otherwise.
I could say that I did have some sense of relief that at least I wasn’t alive during this. That I didn’t sit back and have some vague understanding of this going on. But, that’s not really the case, right? We still have other insane situations happening out there and what frustrates me most is the fact that we are outraged over the most silliest of things.
“For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.”
So, Elie Wiesel’s account, at 112 pages, serves as a powerful, undeniable, testament. As simply stated as that.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
And in the Preface to the New Translation, he says: “And yet still I wonder: Have I used the right words?’
For me, yes. For you, read the book and be the judge.
3 thoughts on “Night by Elie Wiesel”
I feel, there are no right words because what has happened is beyond words to describe. It’s just a testimony of the times that people lived back there and hope that we learn something from those days to value Life we lead today. I am happy that the book was or rather his writings were not destroyed during those days.
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He did face a lot of trouble getting it published though. He has talked about that struggle in the preface to this book. He wrote this book in his native tongue, Yiddish. Later it got translated.
Thank you for sharing your candid reaction. I was touched.