Elie Wiesel, Night, and July 4th
Three years ago, I posted a book review of Elie Wiesel’s Night – the story of his family and how the teenage Wiesel survived the Holocaust during World War II. On this July 4th as we celebrate independence and the passing of 87-year old Wiesel just a few days ago, it seems only fitting that we honor a man who spoke out against violence, racism, and repression, told us why we need to stand up to injustices, and how important it is to listen to those with the courage to speak out. With that in mind, the post of Night – one of Wiesel’s most important works – is reprinted below:
NIGHT. No one was praying for the night to pass quickly. The stars were but sparks of the immense conflagration that was consuming us. Were this conflagration to be extinguished one day, nothing would be left in the sky but extinct stars and unseeing eyes.
In May, 1944, 15-year old Elie Wiesel and his family – his mother, father and three sisters – were ordered from their home in Sighet, Transylvania (the central part of Romania) and transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. Separated from his mother and sisters, Wiesel and his father managed to stay together for eight months, before his father died in January, 1945. Three months later in April, 1945 the camp was liberated and Elie Wiesel began the journey of “one who has emerged from the Kingdom of Night…”
For more than a decade, Wiesel did not speak of the atrocities he saw and experienced but as the years passed by, he realized he had to speak out, to bear witness to one of the most awful injustices of the 20th century: the Holocaust. Wiesel came to believe that a survivor who chooses to testify has a “duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living” because the world needs to remember to prevent such horrors from happening again. And, so he started to write and find meaning in life through his books, essays, and speeches.
In 1958, Wiesel with the help of the French Catholic Nobel Laureate Francois Mauriac, published Night, the story of Elie Wiesel’s family during World War II with the primary focus on the 11 months Wiesel spent at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and the Buna concentration camps. Prisoner A-7718 (Elie Wiesel) realized “this personal record, coming as it does after so many others and describing an abomination such as we might have thought no longer had any secrets for us, is different, distinct, and unique nevertheless.”
Looking back, Wiesel does not know how he survived and writes “it was nothing more than chance.” He endured unspeakable hardship – starvation, physical and mental abuse – and witnessed horrific acts of cruelty to babies, children, and adults which is graphically written about in Night. Upon arriving at Auschwitz in a cattle car with 79 other Jews, Wiesel writes that “never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.”
In 1986, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out against violence, racism, and repression. In his acceptance speech, he said:
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.
60 years later and Night is as relevant today as when it was first published. At times difficult to read, this 115-page book is powerful, heartbreaking, and a lesson in why people need to speak out and be heard….and why we need to listen.