Night – Ellie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize in 1985)
Ellie Wiesel’s autobiographical narrative is the first work written by him. He later went on to pen many more books but as he himself puts it:
“Just as the past lingers in the present, all my writings after Night, profoundly bear its stamp, and cannot be understood if one has not read this very first of my works.”
Ellie Wiesel was a Romanian-born Jew whose home town of Sighet was occupied by the Hungarians for most of the WW II. In May 1944, all the Jews in the area were forced into cattle wagons and transported to Auschwitz. Eliezer (Ellie) Wiesel was just 15 years old when he was taken to Auschwitz along with the rest of his family. He is separated from his mother and younger sister at the very beginning, and never sees them again. Along with his father he is taken to the concentration camp, where they are forced to survive in dehumanizing conditions. Young Ellie who once was an ardent student of the Talmud, has to come to terms with the ‘night’ that has fallen on his faith, and he has with immeasurable courage written a testimony of his memories of one of the darkest periods of his life. He does this because, he believes that as a witness and a survivor it was his moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory – “ allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.”
I read this slim book, the beginning of his trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day) earlier this year and have had time to contemplate on it. It is undoubtedly a book that will leave a powerful impact on you. It was originally written in Yiddish, then in French and subsequently translated into English. Apparently, when he submitted the first manuscript of this book which was at the time called I ‘And the World Remained Silent’ (definitely a title that would bother our collective conscience), nearly all major publishers rejected him. Only after months of tireless efforts by another Nobel laureate Francois Mauriac was this manuscript finally brought into print.
In the end Night provides a chilling testimony to what manifests in an individual’s core identity when the Anti-Semitism forces them to be robbed of their individuality. In the book, Wiesel and the other inmates were "told to roll up our left sleeves and file past the table. The three 'veteran' prisoners, needles in hands, tattooed numbers on our left arms. I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name."
Increasingly I am beginning to think a book cannot be effectively summarized. This book even more so. What can you tell about a haunting memoir of a sole survivor of a family who is led to question everything he believed in when he witnesses the horrors of the Holocaust? What can you say about a powerful testimony of courage and human resilience in the face of virulent hatred and dehumanization in one of the darkest periods of human history? What can one say?
Suffice to state, that the history of that time contains a multitude, of which this memoir is surely a significant part.