“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
– George Santayana
There’s a lot of debate in Denmark right now because some have suggested that Jews didn’t walk on (certain) streets in Copenhagen while wearing a Star of David or a kippa/yarmulke because they will then be in danger of being attacked. It’s strangely appropriate that I should be reading this book right now, then.
I’ve also just finished reading Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones about the extermination of the Jews from the point of view of an SS officer. 983 pages. So I needed something from the other point of view. Something showing the Jews and their suffering from their perspective. Something showing them as the humans they were and are and not as the animals, the Nazis tried to make them be in order to justify the extermination of them. It’s strange that Littell’s book made me think so much more with all it’s many pages whereas this brief book didn’t so much make me think as it made me feel. And it definitely didn’t make me want to think because thinking of what Wiesel writes, is too devastating.
Wiesel’s book is written to bear witness. To tell what it was like to be in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. To tell the world what happened to the Jews during World War II. But in some ways, he didn’t succeed in showing them as humans. Or at least, not all the time. Because what the book shows is that if you treat humans like the Nazis treated the Jews, at some point you take everything that’s human out of them and all you leave them with, is survival instinct. And that is what makes a boy not react to his father’s cries as he is being beaten to death. That’s what make a boy unsure whether the babies he saw thrown in the fire, was alive or not. That’s what makes a boy run and run and run, through the snow and without any food or drink, on a foot that just had surgery. That’s what makes a boy survive being separated from his mother and little sister by a man saying just eight words: “Men to the left! Women to the right!” (p. 29)
Hitler and the Nazis did succeed in making the Jews into animals. They were starved and beaten and mistreated and tortured and used in ways most of us would never do to an animal. And when they were dead – sometimes even before they were dead – their bodies were burned or buried in huge mass graves. Unmarked graves.
“It is obvious that the war which Hitler and his accomplices waged was a war not only against Jewish men, women, and children, but also against Jewish religion, Jewish culture, Jewish tradition, therefore Jewish memory.” (p. viii)
But despite all they did to accomplish this, to erase the Jews from ever existing, they still failed. And they failed because of people like Elie Wiesel. Like Primo Levi. Like Anne Frank. Like Imre Kertész. Like Art Spiegelman. And like so many others. Who bore witness to what had happened to them or to their families. Who made sure that no one would ever forget. And thereby did their part in preventing it from ever happening again. Now we just need people to listen. To read.
And to get people to stop attacking Jews for being Jews. Or other people for being who they are born to be.
It’s hard to write a review about a book like this, it’s hard to rate it anything but 5 stars, it’s hard to write a review about it that says more than ‘just go read it!’
“The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be tomorrow. He does not want his past to become their future.”
– Elie Wiesel
- Title: Night
- Author: Elie Wiesel
- Publisher: Penguin
- Year: 2006 (1958)
- Pages: 120 pages
- Source: Own Collection
- Stars: 5 stars out of 5
If you liked this book, you might also like The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, Maus by Art Spiegelman and The Reader by Bernhard Schlinck, books that all deal with World War II, or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about being in a death camp/labor camp.