Night is Elie Wiesel’s retrospective account of his life, from his hometown in Transylvania through his experiences in Aushwitz-Birkenau and other work-camps, until just after the camps were liberated.
In 1941, Elie was 13. He lived with his parents and sister, and from his account, it seems he was studiously devoted to the Talmud. In 1944, he was rounded up with his family and all other Jews into two Ghettos, and later transported in cattle trains to Auschwitz, Buna and finally Buchenwald.
It’s not an easy account to read: murder, brutality, starvation, extreme cold, back-breaking work, illness. It is a short, intensely difficult book to process. The only way I feel I can tackle this review is to give brief insight into what makes Night so important to read.
Firstly, I was struck by the way Wiesel writes about his religion, how it was practised by those around him throughout this period in his life, how people viewed God, approached Rosh Hashanah and the Talmud, how different Rabbis responded, those around him, and most significantly his own relationship with God.
Then, there is his relationship with his father, how vital it was to his survival to always have his father close to him, their battle to protect each other, keep each other alive. It is unimaginable to me, how people could have survived the experience of their parents/children/siblings beaten or killed, or suffering in that awful ‘edge of death’ way that we know people suffered in concentration camps.
There are small details that have lingered after reading Night – not necessarily the most horrific things that happened, but the ones that affected him deeply. A certain expression on his father’s face, someone he is talking to being trampled by all the prisoners running, the violinist playing one night in the barracks. Other moments, are striking because of the way they are understated. The last time he sees his mother and sister for instance.
There are many reasons to read this book. I feel Elie Wiesel himself sums up these reasons in his preface to this new 2006 translation when he describes how he feels about it. He says ‘without this testimony, my life as a writer – or my life, period – would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.’
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