Elie Wiesel: Night (review)

 “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

– George Santayana

nightThere’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.

Related posts:

Top Ten Books I Read In 2012

So I read quite a few good books this year, 42 so far and 11 of which I rated 5 stars. Of these, I’ve selected 10 and put together the list below. So it was quite easy to do. They are listed in an order reflecting only on the order I read them in, the last read mentioned first. These are all great books, if you haven’t read them, you should go do so now! As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

night  9781857152395  w  57891

9780141025186_20000_5501  th_0140437312  9780316036856  9781846688065_pi

tumblr_lqp0mpeKFl1qzazb5o1_400  vagrants

  1. Elie Wiesel: Night. Wiesel’s short book about his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, is almost beyond description. It’s a must read for anyone, simply put.
  2. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of this book yet but it still seems that I have been talking about it all over the place. Hugo can write about anything and he frequently steers off on a tangent to do just so. Still, this story about Jean Valjean and Colette is a wonderful book, it’s a classic and it’s worth the many pages and the huge amount of time, it takes to take.
  3. Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale. I really like magical realism. This story of Beverly Penn and Peter Lake and Athansor set in a mythic and fictionalized New York City is written in the most beautiful and lyrical way and I just loved it. So much in fact, that I don’t dare to read another novel by Helprin because I’m afraid that it will not live up to this one.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. In some ways, this is the Japanese version of The Hunger Games. A class of kids with weapons are set free on an island to shoot each other down until only one remains. This is much more violent than The Hunger Games and it’s such an exciting book. Pure entertainment.
  5. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. How does a boy handle loosing his father? How does he handle loosing him in the 9-11 attack? This is a wonderful story of a young boy dealing with this loss and at the same time, it’s an experimental novel using pictures and more to tell this story. Foer is an amazing writer and he writes so well and not only uses pictures to emphasize his story, but also paints pictures with his words. And in this way, he is telling Oscar Schell’s story as well as the story of his grandfather who survived the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II.
  6. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. So if everyone knew just how thrilling the classics can be, everyone would be reading them. And to get them doing so, everyone should be handed this one and told to go read it. When I read it, I just sat down and read and read and read, ignored everything around me to finish this novel to figure out what happened to Walter Hartright, Laura Fairlie, Marian Halcombe and the woman in white.
  7. Dan Simmons: Drood. On June 9, 1865, Dickens was in a train disaster that influenced him for the rest of his life. This is Simmons’ account of what happened. And it’s amazing and exhilarating and exciting and even when you’re done, you’re really not sure what happened. It was so good!
  8. Lionel Shriver: We Need To Talk About Kevin. I read this in the beginning of the year and … well, after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it just became an even more important book. Everyone should read this. It tells the story of a mother whose son guns down several of his school mates. Is it nature or nurture who caused this to happen? If it’s nature, can you do something to prevent it from happening? I don’t want to get political here but really, everyone should read this!
  9. Donna Tartt: The Secret History. Richard Papen starts attenting college and taking Classics studies. The group of kids studying Classics studies consists of 5 other students and are taught by the charismatic Julian. But right from the beginning, you know that this group of friends kill one of their own and you’re eagerly reading on to find out why and how this happened. This is Donna Tartt’s first novel and it’s amazing! Much better than other books with a similar theme like Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
  10. Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. This is one of those novels that hurts you when you read it but which is worth the pain. It’s set in China in 1979 and it’s about the execution of a 28 years old woman and the consequences of this death. I’m fascinated by China and what happened in China after Mao came to power, after the Cultural Revolution and more. This is a debut novel and you should definitely read it now so you can say you were in almost from the beginning!

Related posts: