Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), the 1986 Peace
Nobel Laureate and a Holocaust survivor, is no more with us. He passed away
last night. He was 87. He was a Jew born in Romania, was forced to the horrors of
an Auschwitz life and became a US citizen and a Boston University professor.
Elie Wiesel will always be remembered as
the most haunted voice of the Holocaust years – the years when he somehow
survived the concentration camps run by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the
Second World War from 1939 to 1945 – the concentration camps that exterminated
millions in a systematic manner only because Hitler and his people considered
them inferior human beings. They saw them as the problem and the only final solution
was to wipe them out.
Elie Wiesel was the biggest chronicler of
the Holocaust days – writing over 50 books – based on his haunting memories. His
autobiographical book Night came to
me as a soul-stirring experience.
Before it, I was largely focused on
documentaries, visual media, news reports and studies on the Holocaust to know
more about the largest pogrom of modern human history, to feel its pain, to
realize its message. But the experience after Night transcended all and made the Holocaust memoirs the major part
of my Holocaust reading, of the past, as well as the ongoing ones.
The sudden change, from the peaceful
childhood days to a life of utter debasement, where there were no children, no
adults, no males, or no females, just living human corpses, waiting to be
gassed and burned, brings poignant thoughts that shake your very existence. His life and work remind how debased the
humankind can become and how resilient the humanity can come out to be.
what Elie Wiesel’s timeless classic ‘Night’
tells us: DARK SIDE OF THE MAN THAT CAN KILL MILLIONS
Writing about the book Escape from Camp 14, biography of a North Korean concentration
camps survivor Shin Dong-hyuk written by an American journalist Blaine Harden,
reminded me about Elie Wiesel’s Night,
the memoir that details THE DEGENERATION OF LIFE in the Nazi concentration
camps during the Second World War
from Camp 14 is about the journey of a man, born and forced to live an
animal life, and how he finds the human in him; Night is about how a man, born to lead a human life, is forced to a
life that is worse than of animals.
At over 120 odd pages (the Penguin India
edition), 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 on the tormenting days of his life in
different concentration camps including Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
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, under an ongoing world
war then, believing that it cannot reach them.
(Image courtesy: Night book cover; Elie Wiesel's photograph from Nobelprize.org)
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 can 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 the Jews in the concentration camps think every
now and then about the world war coming to an end while praying to the God; we
see it in the escapist thoughts when the Jews of Sighet initially take German
soldiers as the 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 whenever
they get a comparatively lesser fiendish security guard.
Night is representative of the dark side of the 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 teenager Elie
who struggles with his conscience first, about his trust in the God that he
finds incoherent with the acts that begin the day they board the cattle train
to Auschwitz, and grows on to degenerates into the cattle mentality of
surviving anyhow even if it means sacrificing your father and shapes ultimately
into a distrust in anything like the very existence of the God. What else can
be expected when someone becomes a 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 months in the concentration
camps while living near to those crematoriums.
is not just a memoir from the Holocaust literature;
it is also a sensitive book on father-son relation. Night tells us about the internal struggle of the human conscience
when Elie writes about that ‘night’ that changes all. The night they board the
train makes their human comrades inhuman at the very go – the way his community
people beat a 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 becoming a different person, a debased survivor. Though he
remains very much a father’s son, with his father being the only symbolic
emotive quotient and support throughout his captive life in the concentration
camps, at times he thinks of him 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 he tries to avoid the eye contact.
And teenager Elie was just one out of the
millions in the concentration camps, who were forced to think like this; who
inherited this internal struggle for years to come; who got unending ‘night’
hours imprinted in their conscious to haunt them as these words of Elie Wiesel
during his Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize sum up:
this be true?" This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who
would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”