Writing about ‘Escape from Camp 14’ reminded me about Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’, the memoir, that details out THE DEGENERATION OF LIFE in the Nazi concentration camps.
While ‘Escape from Camp 14’ is about the journey of a man, born and forced to live an animal life, finding the human in him; ‘Night’ is about how a man, born to lead a human life, is forced to a life worse than of animals.
At over 120 odd pages (the Penguin India edition that I have), the ‘slim’ ‘Night’ numbs you by the simple words of confusion about life, faith, death and relations as told by a young Elie Wiesel reflecting the tormenting days of his life in different concentration camps including Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
‘Night’ begins normally with observations of a teenager about a quiet Jewish countryside in a remote town Sighet, under Hungary’s occupation then. It tells how a typical Jewish family lives there, how a boy dutifully tries to be religiously observant, how the community there feels insular to the outside world’s activities and concerns, currently under a world war, believing that it cannot reach them.
‘Night’ exposes the inherent human weakness – clinging to the very last of the failing hope that the god would come and exercise some miracle – we see it in Elie’s father when he believes that something could still be worked out when almost of the Jewish community is already sent to Auschwitz; we see it later on as the memoir progresses when Jews in the concentration camps think every now and then about the world war coming to an end praying the god; we see it in the escapist thoughts when the Jews of Sighet initially take German soldiers as good Samaritans even if their every freedom is curtailed the very day German soldiers arrive in the town; we see it on every such occasion when the characters of this memoir think that they are not going to be gassed and sent to then crematorium whenever they get a comparatively lesser fiendish a guard.
‘Night’ is representative of the dark side of man that can poison and kill millions. Millions of Jews were gassed, burned and exterminated in furnaces and ‘Night’ tells that sordid tale through the eyes of the teenager Elie who struggles with his conscience first, about his trust in god that he finds incoherent with the acts beginning the day they board the cattle train to Auschwitz, and grows on to degenerate into the cattle mentality of surviving anyhow even if it means sacrificing your father and shapes into the ultimate distrust in anything like god – what else can be expected when someone becomes mute spectator to the Nazi killing machine of Hitler’s Germany – the ‘Selection’ of humans as animals gassing and burning them in thousands daily. Elie survived the months in the concentration camps while living near to those crematoriums.
‘Night’ is just not a Holocaust literature; it is also a sensitive book on a father-son relation. ‘Night’ tells us the internal struggle of human conscience when Elie writes about that ‘night’ that changes all. The night they board the train makes their human comrades inhuman at they very go – the way his community people beat the old woman crying consistently after her family is taken away. No sympathy – just the savagery of the jungle to survive – that ‘night’ began it. Elie watches himself change. Though he remains very much a father’s son, father being his only symbolic emotive quotient and support throughout the captive life, he thinks at occasions of his father as burden, only to blame himself the next moment. There come moments when he watches his old, frail father being brutally beaten by the guards but tries to avoid the eye contact.
And the teenager Elie was just one life out of the millions in the concentration camps, who thought like this; who inherited this internal war for the years to come; who got unending ‘night’ hours imprinted in their conscious to haunt them.