Back to the Classics Challenge
Author: Elie Wiesel
Publisher: Hill & Wang
Acquired Via: Library (Kayla) & Personal Collection (Amber)
Release Date: 1960
Night is Elie Wiesel's masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. This new translation by Marion Wiesel, Elie's wife and frequent translator, presents this seminal memoir in the language and spirit truest to the author's original intent. And in a substantive new preface, Elie reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man's capacity for inhumanity to man.
Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.
Night by Elie Wiesel is the first book that we have chosen to read for our Back to the Classics Challenge.
Kayla: I'm glad that we read Night first because it was the book I was most likely to put off reading. (I swear I didn't - January was a busy month.) The Holocaust always makes me extremely emotional, but I was surprised by my lack of reaction to Night. Don't get me wrong, I was horrified by the situations Elie Wiesel faced, but I never cried. How did the book make you feel?
Amber: Mostly I felt sad and angry while reading it. Obviously sad about everything that Wiesel went through, but also just that it happened and it happened to so many people. But also sad for the things that Wiesel lost besides his family and his possessions. He lost his faith in himself and in his God. He also lost a little of his humanity. I'm also angry that there are still people in the world that believe that the Holocaust never happened. Then, I just thought it was so crazy that at the beginning of Night, Wiesel talks about how the people he knew were saying that they didn't believe that Hitler was really going to kill the Jewish people. Then they let the Nazis into their homes, then they let the Nazis kick them out of their homes, etc. I wonder if it was because they wanted to believe that human beings couldn't be that awful. Or if they, like most people, think that something bad will never happen to them.
Do you think that your lack of reaction was due to how Night was written? To me, it seemed very matter-of-fact and almost clinical.
Kayla: I think the denial of the Jews in Sighet (and around the world) was what really struck me in the novel because it's such a human reaction. It's easier to believe that something won't happen to us than to do something uncomfortable, like leave our homes or fight injustice. I think we have to believe that at some level, even if we're being realistic, because it would drive us insane to know such things are possible. And those people who think the Holocaust never happened are crazy-pants. Genocide has always been a problem in the world, and sadly, it still is.
I found it ironic that the author wanted to study the Kabbalah and the mysteries of God before the Holocaust, but when he was faced with all of those indescribable horrors, his faith left him fairly quickly.
I think my lack of reaction had a lot to do with the walls I put up before starting the novel. I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., and I was completely overwhelmed. I had to wait on my classmates in the lobby because it was way too much for me to process. I had nightmares for weeks afterward. I think the detached manner with which Wiesel describes his time in the concentration camp makes it more palatable for squeamish readers. I hate myself a little for saying that, but it would deter people from reading his account if he was too emotional.
How did you feel about Moshe the Beadle and Madame Schächter's parts in Night?
Amber: You know we could have picked something else for the war book if you have such a strong reaction to the Holocaust.
I think that Wiesel may have used Madam Schächter to demonstrate that the Nazis treating the Jewish people as less than human made them less human, like where the Jewish people beat her to keep her quiet. But I think that it shows that maybe put in a similar situation as the Nazis a lot of people would have been just as cruel - like those psychology experiments they did years ago (the Standford prison experiment). Not all humans are humane and it just takes a situation that gives them leeway to show their depravity. What did you think about Wiesel being mad at his dad when his dad was being beaten?
As for Moshe the Beadle, I agree with you that the Jewish people's denial was one of the things that haunt me most about the novel. I just wanted to shake them all - don't get on the train! It's not "just a labor camp"! I went to Europe a few summers ago and when visiting Munich, we toured Dachau. The whole time I was reading about Auschwitz I could only think that for all the horrors we saw at Dachau, Auschwitz was even worse.
Kayla: No, I'm glad that we read Night because this is a book that I really felt needed to be read, and hopefully someone else might pick it up after reading our review.
That is a great interpretation of the use of Madam Schächter in the story. I read her to be, along with Moshe the Beadle, a warning to the Jews of the potential outcome of their complacency. (Yes, I thought they were both probably literary tools to foreshadow the events to come.) Moshe the Beadle was ridiculed when he came back to Sighet to warn everyone of what was coming, and then Madam Schächter was beaten for crying out about the flames that many of them were doomed to feed. It was easier to write them off as mad.
I think Wiesel's anger at his father is very understandable, as he was only a teenager. Even though he was fifteen, and nearly an adult, he was still a child, and children expect their parents to be infallible beings on some level. Therefore, when Wiesel's father allowed himself to slip up and be beaten, it made the boy lose even more of his innocence by witnessing his dad being severely punished for a seemingly stupid mistake.
I think touring closed concentrations camps would have to be something I would skip, when/if I ever make my way to Europe. I can't even imagine how it would feel to walk the same paths that were the last ones many ever walked.
What was the most uncomfortable part of Night for you to read?
Amber: Honestly the entire book was pretty difficult to read, but I think that the worst parts for me were when his father got sick. Not only that his physical torment with the sickness and being beaten, but also the author's involvement. Should he give his father more water even though it might make him worse? Should he give his father food or keep the portions for himself? Then after his shame at feeling relieved. I can't imagine having to make those kinds of decisions.
What about you?
Kayla: It made me feel really sorry for Wiesel when things got really bad for his father. I think his father would have wanted him to keep his portions of food and water to himself, but no matter what, anyone would feel guilty in the same situation. I understand the feeling of relief, because I'm sure it's very similar (though nowhere near on the same scale) to what caregivers feel after their very ill charge finally passes away.
It's kind of a funny story, but I would have to say everything involving the dentist and the gold dental work was hardest for me. That's what my nightmares are made of. Gross as it sounds, I haven't seen a dentist in nearly a decade because of a really bad experience. (I had braces for 4 years, so I'm still obsessed with dental hygiene.) It was so difficult for me to make it through that part because I knew that Bad Things Would Happen. And then when it did... *shakes* I can't even imagine how awful it would be to be required have teeth pulled without medication.
Amber: I completely agree. I think he may have written that he was relieved in part as self condemnation, but it was a natural reaction to the situation. He had to be relieved that his father was no longer suffering.
How do you feel about the last couple of sentences of Night? -
...I had not seen myself since the ghetto.
From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me.
The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.
Kayla: It made me sympathize with him (as best I can) more than anything else in the novel. Wiesel lived through these horrendous things. I think the wording was acknowledging how close he was to death, and he will carry that with him for the rest of his life.
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