For some reason, I’ve read a lot of Holocaust-themed books in recent time than I ever have my whole life. Not that I’m fascinated with the Holocaust — it’s not a very happy theme, and it’s hardly light reading, but it does inspire stories of the greatness (or debauchery) of the human spirit.
BM friend Aloi recommended the book Night by Elie Wiesel a few months back and I was mentally kicking myself for having given up the copy on BookMooch. Sometime later, I managed to dig up a turtleback copy (ugh, but still a mass market paperback inside) in a bargain bin at Book Sale and I made up my mind to read it this year.
All the Holocaust books I’d read before could not have prepared me for Night — it was like watching the Holocaust documentary “Genocide” (which I watched in sophomore year in college, and to this day I still can’t erase the image of thousands of emaciated white bodies being dumped into wide open pits from my mind, or the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I think about it) all over again.
Night (Book #117 of 2009, Book #20 for the Diversity Challenge – memoir) is the memoirs of Elie Wiesel, an Orthodox Jew of Hungarian descent and Holocaust survivor originating from Sighet, Transylvania. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 1986 for being a messenger of “peace, atonement and human dignity” (read full citation here).
It is the first of a trilogy, followed by the books Dawn and Day.
Night narrates Wiesel’s horrifying experience of the Holocaust, from being driven out of Sighet with thousands of other Jews to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, to a death march in the freezing cold to the camp in Buchenwald, until the moment of liberation.
The book is a firsthand account of the Holocaust experience, although there is some debate on whether it should be classified as a memoir or a novel, and I think it is a cross of both, as the writing style isn’t as “plain” as some people see it, and I feel some passages were hyperbolic, although I can’t judge the author on how he felt (or says he felt) at a particular moment.
But regardless of whether it is a memoir or novel, the power of this book is undeniable, as the words echo the pain and horror of the experience so hauntingly that the reader can’t help being stirred by the raw emotion:
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Despite the brevity of the book (less than a hundred pages, in short chapters), the few hours I read it felt like eternity because it elicited so many emotions in me — disbelief at the horror that was unfolding in the novel and double disbelief that it actually happened in this world, incredulity at the capability of humans to cause the suffering of fellow humans, compassion for the victims, and admiration for the fortitude and faith of those who survived (and even those who didn’t).
Night packs a powerful punch, especially when the decades have blurred the memory of the Holocaust in the minds of today’s generation. It is a story the world should never forget, and never allow to happen again.
my copy: mass market turtleback, with notes and underlining in pencil
my rating: 5/5 stars
*cover photo courtesy of sxc.hu