Mar 25, 2008

Night by Elie Wiesel

Night is Elie Wiesel’s account of his experience of WW2. He was only fourteen when he was taken to Auschwitz, and later to Buchenwald. Elie and his family lived in Sighet, a Transylvanian village that belonged then to Hungary. The Jews of Sighet were left in peace until late in the war, when Germany invaded Hungary. However, even then few believed that they were in any real danger. Elie Wiesel recounts how when Moshe the Beadle, a respected member of the Jewish community, returns to the village after having been expelled and warns them that he has witnessed a massacre, nobody believes him. People just think that he has lost his mind.

Over the next eighteen months, things become increasingly harder for the Jews, until, in May 1944, they are sent to Auschwitz:
But we had reached a station. Those who were next to the windows told us its name:
No one had ever heard that name.
After that, Wiesel describes how, in the face of the horrors he was witnessing, he lost his faith, his will to live, and almost his very humanity. The writing style is simple, straightforward and very effective. It lets the full horror of what is being described speak for itself. One of the most impressive scenes is when Wiesel sees a boy his own age be hanged in Auschwitz. The boy was very light, so he struggled for over two hours until he finally died.

I think it’s a natural reaction to wonder, when reading Night, why they didn’t run away, why they didn’t believe the warnings, why they didn’t fight back. I asked myself this, and at first I caught myself attributing it to post-Enlightenment optimist and the refusal to believe that civilized men could do this to one another. But then I stopped. Would we believe it today? If we were them, would we have run away? We can say that these days we are all aware of humankind’s seemingly endless capacity for violence, and yet Holocaust denial is still frighteningly prevalent. And not just that. Other things, other horrors that go on every day, are widely ignored or denied. Just in February 2007, Wiesel was attacked by a man who wanted to force him to declare that Night was a fabrication. So would we run away now? I cannot say.

I guess that it’s hard to accept that even though we are all human, even though we are here together, we do this to one another. To do so is to feel extremely vulnerable, and maybe that’s why people insist on narrowing down their definition of “we” to a single country, to a single ethnicity, to a single faith. But it’s true that we have more to fear from fellow humans than from the wildest of animals, than from the most destructive force of nature. Perhaps facing this fact could be a first step.

It was shocking to see, as I read this book, how those people were mercilessly robbed of everything they had, of everything they were, of the very things that made them human. In the face of such harshness, of such misery and despair, even family ties began to dissolve. In the following scene, a father and a son fight each other to death for a piece of bread:
He collapsed. His fist was still clenched around a small piece. He tried to carry it to his mouth. But the other one threw himself upon him and snatched it. The old man again whispered something, let out a rattled, and died amid the general indifference. His son searched him, took the bread, and began to devour it. He was not able to get very far. Two men had seen and hurled themselves upon him. Others joined him. When they withdrew, next to me were two corpses, side by side, the father and the son.
I was fifteen years old.
The book ends on a very bleak note, but there is some comfort to be found in the knowledge that Elie Wiesel went on to become such a prolific writer, and a Nobel Prize for Peace winning activist.

Read Night. It’s an important book

Reviewed at:
Book Addiction
Subliminal Intervention
Trish’s Reading Nook
Grasping for the Wind
The Written World
Book Nook Club


  1. I like your final comment. I can't even imagine what it would be like to spend time "living" in a prisoner of war camp. When we went to Prague last year we went to the Jewish museum and saw lots of drawings of children done in different camps. It had the date of birth and death (very few survived). The worst thing was seeing the same dates of death on numerous occassions where they must have been killed en masse.

  2. This book had a profound effect on me. It's hard to imagine how human beings can justify brutality and murder. Unfortunately, it still goes on today. Just look at Darfur. Once again, the U. S. and the rest of the world is sitting idly by and watching it happen.

  3. I will read it, Nymeth. I promise. Thank you.

  4. I definitely agree with you, Nymeth. It is hard to believe that humans are capable of destruction to another group. It makes one wonder how contradictory humanity is in a way.

    I read this book for my 9th grade English class and I tell you, it touched a sensitive cord within me and for everyone else I am sure.

  5. I first read this book when I was 14 years old and parts of it are still so vivid to me 13 years later. It had such a profound effect on me back then and I'm sure it would again now. My comfort was just in the fact that he had wrote the book and that as a society we were reading the book and that some people were growing because of Mr. Wiesel's book. I know that I did.

  6. this sounds a lot like "If this is a man" a mandatory reading if you are an Italian student. It's the account of Primo Levi's experience in Auschwitz.
    But you probably don't need it after this! this one sounds as powerful and painful as Levi's book.

  7. I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. But it's one of those books that I have to work up the courage to read. It's a tough one, and sometimes I just can't handle the horror of it all.

    But a wonderful review, none the less!

  8. My best friend in high school read this book and others by Wiesel avidly. I was too intimidated by the subject; but I think it's time I did read it. It sounds like a powerful book.

  9. I read this book a couple of years ago and still remember some of the scenes vividly, even the passage that you quoted seemed like I read it yesterday. An amazing story.

  10. Night is definitely one of the most well known and spoke of Holocaust stories. It's a powerful book. And it tells a story we should never forget.

    We don't have to look very far to see that humans have not learned much from that terrible time in history. Genocide is a fact of life even today, sad to say.

  11. Thanks for your great review! I have been meaning to read this book, but I just haven't taken the time yet. I think I will add it to the list now. :-)

  12. I have heard of this book for years but had not idea what it was about. It sounds fascinating and profound. I too wonder why people didn't heed the warning signs back then and have to believe that things just weren't as clear then as they are for us in hindsight. Perhaps we would be..and blind to what is going on around us as the Jews were then.

  13. Rhinoa: I can only imagine how impressive that museum must be. There is a part in the book when he describes how, just after arriving to Auschwitz, he saw carts full of babies and young children being thrown to the flames. It's a horrifying scene.

    Lisa, you're absolutely right. It still goes on today.

    Debi: It is of course a very hard book to read, but I think you will nonetheless be glad to have done so.

    Orchidus: It is very contradictory. We are all similar. We are here together. We share our vulnerabilities and our brief lives, and we have the ability to make things better for one another. But also, of course, to make them so much worse.

    Chris: This one is hard to forget. And yes, there is some comfort in the fact that this book is widely read, that this story is passed on and that it makes people stop to think. I read that back in the 70's he had a lot of trouble getting the book published. Most publishers would say that people didn't want to hear those stories, that the book was too dark. I am very glad that they were wrong.

    Valentina: If This is a Man is also on my list for the Themed Reading Challenge. Only that and The Book Thief to go. I will read them both before June, but I do need to let a few weeks go by first.

    Stephanie: I know what you mean. But do read it when you feel ready. Like I told Debi, I think you will be glad to have read it.

    Jeane: I understand being intimidated by it. It is a very bleak book, but a powerful and necessary one.

    Maw Books: I don't think I will ever forget that particular scene.

    Literary Feline: You're absolutely right, unfortunately.

    Kim: You're welcome. This one's definitely worth reading.

    Carl: I am afraid that we would possibly be just as blind. But as long as we remember, as long as these stories are told, there is hope.

  14. What a beautiful and sensitive review of a really tough, but very important book. I agree that it's something we should all read. I had heard there was a new translation of it out...translated by his wife. Was your version the new translation?

  15. Robin, no, mine's an old and very battered library copy (which made me happy, really - it means lots of people are reading it). I'm interested in taking a look at that new translation now, though.

  16. I read this book for the first time back in 2003 when I taught it to my World Literature students (was teaching high school at the time). They thought it horrific, but ended up loving it because they had learned surprisingly little about the Holocaust in history class. Which I thought was atrocious in itself, but I'll leave that to another post.

    I have his other books on my shelf somewhere and need to dig them out.

  17. I have this book waiting for me on my shelves. I will get to it.

  18. I read this one a little more than a year ago and reading your review re-stirs strong emotions inside me. I've wondered how is other books are.

  19. Andi: I also learned very little about the Holocaust in history class, and I do agree that it's atrocious. I try to make up for that fact by reading on the subject whenever I can. I'll have to look into Wiesel's other books too.

    Iliana: This is not the kind of book one enjoys, so I won't say "enjoy it", but like I told Debi and Stephanie, I think you will be glad to have read.

    Trish: I wonder too. And I imagine that in a year I will look back and feel the same way as you. This is not a book you forget.

  20. Nymeth,

    I reviewed Night on my blog a few months back. You bring up a good point about their disbelief-how do you believe something so unbelievable?

    Here is my review:

    I will add a link to your review as well.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.