Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars
“Night” is one of those books that is very difficult to read because of the subject matter but is a must read exactly because of that subject matter. It is the biographical story of teenage Elie Wiesel’s time in World War Two and traces his time from the beginnings of World War Two in Sighet, Hungary, to the rounding up of the Jews in his town in 1944, to his travails in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, to his emancipation at the end of World War Two. It is important to be reminded again and again that this stuff happened. It is so far outside our experience that it’s very difficult to believe that it did happen. That it does happen in places we don’t care about. That it can happen. Even here. Even now.
I have, for a long time, been uncomfortable with the concept of good and evil and the battle of good versus evil with which a majority of humanity seems to view the world. Reading “Night” greatly reinforced that discomfort. I choose to view the world as comprised of those who have retained their humanity and those who have lost it or have had it taken away from them. Our humanity is a fragile and precious thing that can be snuffed out as easily as blowing out birthday candles. Luckily, we share a common interest in our own humanity and the humanity of those close to us. Sadly, we choose to retain the humanity of our own cohort at the expense of the humanity of another cohort. I use the word “cohort” on purpose because the big trouble comes when we become militaristic against another group of people. This is what happened to the Jews in World War Two. The Nazi cohort went against the Jewish cohort and systematically and effectively removed the Jewish humanity while maintaining a perverse Nazi humanity as justification. The Nazis definitely took it to the extreme, but war requires both a loss of one’s own humanity with regards to the “enemy” and a reinforcement of one’s own belonging. This is the central terror of Nationalism. And once the Jewish humanity was removed well past the stereotypical nonsense that still pervades society today, it became trivial to snuff their souls. Because they don’t have them. Look at them fighting for scraps. They kill each other for a piece of bread. I can beat this one’s father right in front of him and he will do nothing. Surely they wouldn’t participate in the killing of their own people if they were human. It is a mercy to kill them. They are suffering. You don’t feel bad for putting down a horse who is lame. Is the Jew who killed another Jew for his shoes evil? Is the father who shared his bread with his starving son good? No, one had his humanity stripped from him and the other was able to maintain it for at least a portion of the time.
Reading “Night” should be thought of as taking a journey of the soul. There are times when I was close to tears and I still well up in the eyes thinking about those times. There are times of such stark beauty that it is almost preposterous to believe that such things can exist in dark times and I still smile when I think of them. Well, smile and well up with tears. It’s an emotionally complicated book. My journey is continuing with Elie Wiesel’s other two books in the trilogy, “Dawn”, and “Day”. Do yourself a favor and read “Night”. If you’ve already read it, read it again.