Sunday, January 4, 2015


Book: Night
Author: Elie Wiesel
Edition: eBook read on Overdrive from Fresno County Library
Read: January 4, 2015
184 pages
Rated: 4 1/2 out of 5

Wiesel tells of his home town and the assumption that all will be the same as the war starts to surround Hungry. But gently the noose slips over the Jews head until the Nazi's take control over Hungry. Then all the Jews are shipped off to Germany and their concentration camps. From there, Wiesel tells of his experiences in the camps. He sees what the Germans did and what the Jews did-in other words, he sees the worst which humans inflict on each other and how humans react. We as a species do not shine in either light.

The last section of the book is Wiesel's Nobel Peace Prize speech.

Wiesel thinks his survival was not the result of his strength, nor divine intervention, but only because of chance. What results, what thoughts progress from each attribution of his survival? It seems like it makes both him and his story rather mundane rather than special. Mundane because his story is no more than a result of a roll of the dice. How Wiesel tells the story, there is so much death that one sees how everything looks like chance. But really, is it?

It also seems like a sense of outrage would be dampened. Why get concerned because what happened is no more a thrown of the dice? We're the Nazi's anymore culpable because whey did was by chance? If by chance, where is the moral basis which we are to feel against this kind of barbarity?

This book is written with an eye towards history. He wants to be one of the voices which describe the pain of the Holocaust. He does say he thinks the word Holocaust is not the right word for the experience. He wants to make sure that the world does not forget what happened. This is with good reason. Today, we have people who say this never happened, even to the point these deniers try to rid voices which speak with authenticity, such as Wiesel. Wiesel himself was the subject of an assassination attempt.

But even more so, I think he not only writes for us, but for himself. He searches not so much for meaning in the depravity he faced, but for description. Not only this is what happened, but a way to make his hurt real and known. He wants a way to express his hurt, to be able to vocalize it. I think so he does not forget. The tools he has is flat, tone less compared to the emotions he has. This cooresponds the need to conserve energy while in the concentration camp. Hate and you will die; dance and you will die; run and you will die.

Some critics say that Night is not a form of art. I do not know, but Wiesel's words caused me to think, to feel, and to try to sort out what happened. Through his writing, I understand I cannot comprehend how a Holocaust survivor must feel-there is no connection possible. That is something to establish there is distance between me and him.

He wonders, will we understand? I am not sure we can. He expresses his same thought that only those who have gone through the horrors of Auschwitz will understand. But at least as a reader, I can try to get a hint of what Wiesel talks about.

He had mastered the art of rendering himself insignificant, invisible (27)   This was talked about a Jew who was a poor Jew. He was accepted because he did not make trouble or draw attention to himself. Once Wiesel started talking to him, he realized there was spiritual depth to him. He was also one of the first Jews taken. Wiesel met him after this Jew escaped. This man had lost his faith. Why? Because of what he saw. This man was a metaphor for this distance Wiesel wants us to know. As the Jews of Hungry could not relate to what Moishe the Beadle was trying to say, neither could we comprehend the Holocaust.

The ghetto was ruled by neither German or Jew; it was ruled by delusion. (39) This delusion was that the Nazi's were not as bad as they were made out to be. While they were inconvenienced, this was as bad as it was going to get. It was to be worse, much worse. This is a warning to us that things are neither at a permanent equilibrium. Events will tip one way or another. All it needs is time to set things in motion. I like inertia. Do not change. But everything changes around us.

It is ironic that on their last night with some from freedom, Wiesel's family decided to stay together through this all. They were offered the chance to escape and hide. But it might mean separation. When they were trained to the concentration camp, they were separated anyway-male and female.

On the train to Auschwitz, a women starts screaming about a fire she was seeing. There was none in sight, so the other 79 passengers bound and gagged her. Later on Wiesel relates how babies were burnt; thrown in the fire en mass. Was the women being prophetic? Or as Wiesel suggests, was she possessed? This is the way we deal with people who make us uncomfortable. Of course, how do we evaluate when a person is mad, possessed, or prophetic?

How does a religious person respond to someplace like Auschwitz? How does a person keep their faith when in that place? Does one have to be blind? Does one question the kind of God which would let something like that happen? Some Christian answers seems trite when approaching the question of where is God in Auschwitz? The typical answer is that God is nailed on the tree there. But does that seem like an answer which gives comfort? It sounds more like a God which is weak and not able to stand up to the forces of the evil of the Nazi's.  Before an answer can be given, the answerer needs to have enough depth to understand the sufferings of the Jews.

In another place, Wiesel talks about Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the last day of the year. How do you celebrate the cursed year, the year which they all have survived horror, but expecting to face more horror? How do you intone how great God is without looking around you and wondering how come God allowed this to happen? Why is God troubling His people? Troubling is too weak of a word-more like slaughtering His own people. These are Wiesel's questions. his answer is to forsake the God of his youth. To view God as being one who is aloof, removed, and is not their for his people.Like Job, Wiesel is the accuser; God the accused.

A situation can reduce a person. Wiesel tells of a time when a foreman attacked his father for no reason. Rather defending his father or at least feeling angry against his father's tormentor, Wiesel was upset at his father for being in the way. The forces at work turns us from our natural inclinations of love and protection to survival.

The concentration camp is a place where survival is the only thing which matters. Promises you made are not kept, life-long rituals are forgotten. The goal of the camp is to reduce the person to being a non-human. Towards the end of Night, the Nazi's succeeded. His father's cell mates would beat the father because he was not strong enough to go outside. They would take his food because he was too weak to defend himself. The philosophy of the camp was explained by a block captain: In this place, it is every man for himself and you cannot think of others. In this place, there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone.

A fellow prisoner said to Wiesel, I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone had kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.(127) Faithfulness is not enough, faithfullness to that which is true is the determining factor.

He tells a story about when they were traveling in an open cattle car, 100 people per car. Some Germans would throw scraps of bread into the car, starting a food frenzy among the starving men. During this food frenzy a son kills his father to get at the bread the father found for his son. He says that later on a woman would throw coins at poverty stricken children evoking the same response. Why? Because she likes giving to charity. Even if the women and Germans were trying to do good, which from Wiesel's description, that is questionable, their good was turned to evil by the suffering it incited.

A few days before liberation, his father dies. A theme throughout the book is this sense of both closeness and abandonment. The closeness is so many times Wiesel and his father would cling together only to be separated. There was times when Wiesel was just trying to survive did he think of abandoning his father, but never did. He felt guilty about those thoughts, guilty that he felt like his father was taking away his own strength. During one harsh march a rabbi came by looking for his son. After the rabbi left, Wiesel realized the son had abandoned his father. Wiesel's prayer was that God give him strength never to do that to his father. Wiesel was true to the prayer, searching for him when lost, giving him food and drink when he could. In the end, Wiesel's father was just too weak to make it. On January 29, 1945, Wiesel felt free-his father had been taken away to the crematorium. After that, nothing mattered until April 11th, when liberation occurred.

And all which is described in the Night section of the book happened before he reached the age of 17.

This is the true story of Elie Wiesel's time of horror and transformation as a Jew in Germany's concentration camps during World War II. Wiesel writes of eloquence and honesty about his own experiences. There is much to consider in Night; much to reflect on-how can we humans tolerate what is being described? How can people even do these cruelties? How can God seemingly stand by and let the atrocities happen? Wiesel loses his faith over this and makes you wonder how would I have stood up? He was 16 after all. Read this book and weep.

New Words:

  • Hasidic (27): It was founded in 18th-century Eastern Europe by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov as a reaction against overly legalistic Judaism. His example began the characteristic veneration of leadership in Hasidism as embodiments and intercessors of Divinity for the followers.
  • Shtick (27): a person's special talent, interest, or area of activity.
  • Shekhinah (27): the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew language word that means the dwelling or settling, and is used to denote the dwelling or settling presence of God
  • Kabbalah (27): literally "receiving/tradition" (also transliterated Cabala, Qabbālâ etc.; different transliterations now tend to denote alternative traditions)) is an esoteric method, discipline, and school of thought that originated in Judaism.
  • Zohar (30):  lit. "Splendor" or "Radiance") is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah
  • Kaddish (111): a hymn of praises to God found in the Jewish prayer service. The central theme of the Kaddish is the magnification and sanctification of God's name.
Table of Contents:
  • Preface
  • Forward
  • Night
  • The Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

Good Quotes:

  • First Line: They called him Moishe the Beadle, as if his entire life he had never had a surname.
  • Last Line: The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.
  •  Books no longer have the power they once did. (14)
  • Those who kept silent yesterday, will remain silent tomorrow. (14)
  • I feel that books, just like people, have a destiny. Some invite sorrow, others joy, some both. (16)
  • Every question possessed a power that was lost in an answer. (29)
  • As for me, I had ceased to pray. I concurred with Job! I was not denying His existence, but I doubted His absolute justice. (83)
  • As soon as he felt the first chinks in his faith, he lost all incentive to fight and opened the door to death. (123)


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