Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Night by Elie Wiesel


I read the version of this book translated by Marion Wiesel, who was the author’s wife.


Night by Elie Wiesel was first published in 1956. This is the author’s account of how in 1944, when he was 15 years old, he and his family were shipped off to Auschwitz. This is a short book. In it, Wiesel tells of nearly unspeakable brutality directed against him, his family and his fellow inmates. This is a harrowing book. It is not an easy book to read, it pears into some of the darkest aspects in humanity.

Wiesel recounts how his entire family was murdered. Only he survived. He tells of beatings, torture and starvation. There are accounts unimaginable brutality and cruelty by The Nazis that I will not describe them or quote. This book should only be read by those whop are prepared to read of such things.

There is almost nothing positive within the actual text of this work. Even Wiesel’s own thoughts exude the darkest negativity and despair.  The author starts out very religious. In fact, recounts how he began studying The Kabbalah at an early age. However, as he experiences horror after horror after horror he begins to question God in an extremely bitter way,

“Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? Praised be Thy Holy Name, for having chosen us to be slaughtered on Thine altar?

My version of this book was only 120 pages long. I get the impression that it is short and concise in order to show the horrors of Wiesel’s experience in a basic and stripped down way. That said, I did hunger for more details.

My edition of this book included supplementary material.  A forward by Wiesel, written years later, as well as his 1986 acceptance speech for The Nobel Peace Prize were included. These materials show a man who has found meaning in life. Wiesel became committed to anti – violence and combatting oppression and bigotry throughout the world. He also seems to acknowledge God. However, there is no indication of this in the text of the book itself. It is simply a chronicle of darkness. I am left feeling that I need to read more of the author’s works to understand what came next and how he became the humanitarian that he became. Wiesel passed away in 2016 but left numerous writings behind.  A glance at his bibliography indicates that many answers might be found in these writings. 

I have read a few other first hand accounts of the Nazi concentration camps and have heard a lot about others. Many similar accounts often incorporate parts about survivors finding some sort of meaning to life. This work, at least the original text, does not provide such optimism. I believe this book, the way it is, has it place. Sometimes the horror of the world just has to be shown as is.  With that, knowing that Wiesel did find meaning, and seems to have chronicled it in his later writings makes this book just a little easier to take. Ultimately this is a vitally important work. It is a look into the worst aspects of existence. Sometimes books need to do this.

35 comments:

Tracy Terry said...

I agree, sometimes less can be more and I certainly think this is the case in books such as this.

Having read, I can't said enjoyed, several books of this type, I can't say I've come across this particular one but I shall certainly seek it out as though doubtlessly harrowing I generally come away from these books with some sense of .... of? Err, some sense that amongst all of this darkness some sense of some light, some goodness also shone through whether or not that be what a survivor went on to do or the fact that through it all the positive actions of perhaps just one person renewed my faith in people being inherently good.

R.T. said...

_Night_ is such a powerful narrative. The author remains in my consciousness as THE voice of the Holocaust. Thanks for your fine posting/review. You remind me that I ought to revisit _Night_. The book might help me make sense of my own existential angst.

So many books, so little time said...

Off to look this one up, I think there are so many important books on this, I have one on my tbrm xxx

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

JacquiWine said...

I admire you for reading this, Brian, I really do. My head isn't in the right place for this type of book right now, but it does sound an important work. As a slight aside, Have you seen the Hungarian film Son of Saul? I think it's one of the most profoundly affecting things I've ever seen about the Holocaust...

thecuecard said...

Hi Brian, I read this book in school long long ago but remember being pretty affected by it. Since then I've thought of Wiesel as an icon and I've respected all of his human rights work so much. He told it like it was and that's often the most effective way to go about it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - I agree that books like this are not enjoyable. This is a really dark one. I also do not know if I would say that people are inherently good. Some people are. I also think that as a percentage of the population the good is increasing.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi RT - As you know, this one is a real dark one to wrap one's head around. Good luck with you own search!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - There are indeed a lot of books out there by Holocaust survivors. They are very important. If you read a book like this I would be interested in reading what you thought about it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui - Imdeed, one should not read something like this at the wrong time. I have not seen Son of Saul. It really looks like a powerful film. I will watch it soon.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - This is an affecting book. Wiesal was indeed very open about what he went through here.

James said...

Having read Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz less than a year ago I found that book to have a positive message of meaning for his life that Levi could take with him. Wiesel's book, while powerful in its depiction of the inhuman brutality of the camp, was not as positive. However I was moved by some of the scenes like the boy with his violin.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - There were moving passages in this book. I plan to read Primo Levi's book soon.

Suko said...

Excellent commentary, Brian Joseph. This true account of the Holocaust sounds exceedingly horrific and harrowing. Man's inhumanity to man.

Gently Mad said...

This is a powerful book. What hit me was the Jews in his town that were in denial for so long. They just could not face what was happening until it was too late. I think that there is a lesson to be learned there.

Thanks for a great review!

Deepika Ramesh said...

Fantastic post, Brian. I am glad that this is first book that we both have read. I read this book last year when I was going through a reading slump and I would have thought that this must be the last book to get me out of it. To my surprise, it brought me back to reading again. Oh! How painful it was to read his account! And how it changed perspectives! I remember a lot of images and smells vividly, and how everything changed overnight for his family. You shared his Nobel speech on Twitter and I loved it. Also, I loved Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'. I read it in the beginning of this year and it resonated with me on so many levels.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, Great review. I so admire Elie Wiesel and I have seen Night in bookstores over the years but now I must read it. It's very dark but as you say sometimes that's necessary in a book. Elie Wiesel wanted to convey the horror of the Holocaust, what he and his family went through, what the Jews of Europe went through when the Nazis came into their towns. I think we have to look at history in the face and not turn away and it sounds like that's what Elie wanted to do in this book.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko. This book really shows the worst side of humanity.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon- I did not touch on that part of the book. As per the book The Jewish community was warned but refused to believe that something bad was coming.

JoAnn said...

It's been over a decade since I read this book and agree that it's basically a 'chronicle of darkness'... a very difficult book. I feel like I should explore his other writing, but haven't been able to do it yet.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Deepika - This boom is indeed painful. I can see how it would leave you with lots of bad images too. It probably was not the book to bring you out of a reading slump. I need to read Man's Search for Meaning. It is interesting that since we have been reading each others blogs, that this is the first book that we have in common.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy - There are indeed terrible things in the world. This book is a look into those things with no sugar coating.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi JoAnn - I may give another book of his a try soon.

Stefanie said...

This is a book I have not read and while I know I probably should, I just can;t bring myself to do it because I know how emotionally devastated it will leave me. Brave of you to read it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephanie- I do not think that anyone should read this who is very uncomfortable doing so. I think that there are some places that are not worth going to. I am getting more sensitive to these things as I get older. I might shy away from books like this more and more in the future.

Carol said...

I noticed one of your commenters mentioned Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. I thought of that book when I was reading your post & I tend to mix up these two authors in my mind.
Interesting review, Brian.

baili said...

Thank you for one more fine commentary Brain!

I can realize through your review that how crucial facts author covers in it!

I think i have not as strong nerves to read this though.

Life has many faces and each reflects in our personality. So did the wiessel's.
This is relief to know that later finally he found peace in life and acknowledged God.

This is divine and ultimate truth of life that EVERYTHING has reason behind it's happening. Time reveals this through determined consequences

The Bookworm said...

This one sounds like a tough read and I've been wanting to read it for some time. I feel like books/films on the Holocaust are so unthinkable when you read and watch them, it's unimaginable the horror these people went through but also the atrocities the others were capable of committing.

I watched Schindler's List a few months ago with my daughter and it was really disturbing, yet also had these glimpses of hope. We googled the survivors and a few of the Nazi officers after to read a bit about them, and it just blows your mind.

For this one being just 120 pages, it does sound like it is really moving. As you mention, sometimes the horror of it just needs to be shown, as hard as that is.

Have you watched or read The Reader? I watched the film and it was draining, but the actors are excellent and the storyline was really something.
Great commentary as always. Enjoy your weekend.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - Schindler's List was very disturbing. I also saw The Reader which I really liked. Books about The Holocaust and other such atrocities are indeed difficult. Niall Ferguson'a The War of the World chronicles what a terrible slaughter the entire first half of The Twentieth Century was. The scope of what went on in this period is astounding.

So many books, so little time said...

Will definitely let you know when I pick one up, did you read The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas? xxx

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - I did not read that one. There are so many Holocaust survivor accounts. I think that one can spend years reading them.

Maria Behar said...

BRILLIANT commentary as usual, Brian!

Needless to say, I will never read this book. We have discussed this issue before. You contend that such books are necessary in order to raise awareness of the horribly dark aspects of human nature. Thus, activists can push for such things never to happen again. Yes, you're right, but I am unable to read such books myself.

I find it especially difficult to read anything about the Holocaust. Heck, I don't watch the news anymore; I haven't done that in years! Just watching a news report about some horrible tragedy always has me in tears. The only book about the Holocaust I ever attempted to read was "The Diary of Anne Frank", back in high school. I was unable to finish it, even though it did not contain accounts as harrowing as the ones you refer to in this review of "Night".

It is totally understandable that Wiesel would bitterly rail against God during his internment at Auschwitz. However, he says it was GOD who built these camps, as well as the furnaces. It wasn't God who did this, but evil human beings, From a Biblical perspective, we humans are sinful. Ironically, in the Old Testament, God Himself supposedly did order genocide. I do wonder, though, whether these dark tales in the Old Testament actually did take place.

Rather than blame God directly for the Holocaust, I would blame Him indirectly. How could He POSSIBLY have allowed this unspeakable atrocity to happen? If the Jews have always been His chosen people, as claimed in the Old Testament, how in BLAZES could He NOT have prevented this massive suffering of the very people He chose? If it's true, as recounted in the Book of Exodus, that God delivered His people from Egyptian slavery, and even parted the Red Sea, then WHY didn't He rescue them from this terrible, monstrous event? How He could just "stand by" and do NOTHING?!

This book, and others related to the Holocaust, definitely raise some very serious questions regarding the existence and nature of God. I can see how an atheist would justify his/her belief that there is, indeed, no deity in the universe, especially not a benevolent one....

(CONGINUED....)

Maria Behar said...

(CONTINUED FROM ABOVE)

I have recently purchased a book I saw in the library of one of my brothers-in-law. (BTW, as you might remember, my husband is Jewish.) This particular brother-in-law happens to be an agnostic, and we have had some very interesting conversations regarding the nature of religion, which he claims was entirely invented by men, and the nature of God. So I saw this book in his library, borrowed it, skimmed it, and returned it to him. I subsequently purchased it. It will probably interest you.

The book is titled, "Why People Believe Weird Things", and the author's name is Michael Shermer. I mention this book because one of the chapters deals with Holocaust deniers. How anyone could even DARE to deny that the Holocaust took place is beyond me, with all the evidence that exists!! Anyway, I read this chapter, and it was a REAL eye-opener. Holocaust deniers are their own special brand of evil people, I think. They are actually helping to perpetuate bigotry and cruelty in the world.

This chapter, as is the case with the rest of the book, has been well researched, and I was able to read it without dissolving into tears, as it doesn't detail any atrocities. I did feel a very strong emotion as I read it, though -- ANGER. These Holocaust deniers have gone to EXTRAORDINARY lengths to prove their ridiculous, and FALSE, point!

The book also deals with other topics, such as UFOs, psychic phenomena, and the like. In other words, topics usually considered to belong to pseudoscience and pseudohistory. I really think you would enjoy reading this book, Brian!

Thanks for another excellent, highly insightful review!! Hope you're having a great week!! <3 :)

JaneGS said...

This is on my TBR list, but to date, I have not found the strength to read, as you put it, this "chronicle of darkness." Thanks for a stellar review--some books are harder to read than others, but that simply makes them so much the more important to read.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much Maria. This book is really not for everyone. Even among Holocaust books, this one is particularly dark. For a long time theologians have been writing about and debating just how much evil God is responsible for. I think that the horrors of the world would levee one questioning, as you say, the nature of God.

Michael Shermer is on Twitter and he seems like an interesting guy. Though I only know a little bit about the Holocaust deniers, I agree, what a horrible belief system to have. Stuff like that does make the blood boil! hat book does sound very good. It might give it a try. In sounds alittle bit like Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World.

Have a great night!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Jane. I think that this one is particularly important. I also think that it is a tougher read then many other Holocaust books.