#3 – Welcoming the Night: Elie Wiesel’s “Night” book review

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemed to live as long as God Himself.

Never.

—Elie Wiesel, 1958, pg. 34

 

Wiesel was a child of God, yet it only took him one night to finally be convinced of Nietzsche’s claim—that yes, God is dead. God died surrounded by those painful cries of children in the giant crematoriums. He died while being hanged in the eyes a young Jewish boy with an angelic face. He died in the heart of a fourteen-year-old aspiring Kabbalist from Sighet when the boy entered Auschwitz, an area known to be the node of German Nazi’s concentration camp network.

 


 

Before deciding on writing this review, I tried my best to remember the things I’ve learnt in both middle school and high school, particularly on history. I remembered how I was taught to list down a number of wars in both national and international-scaled. None of it, however, had left any particular impression on me, including World War II.

A scholar as I was, my limited interest in history stopped me from pursuing futher information on the war beyond provided textbooks. And as people often say, textbook alone is not enough, especially when the mentioned is written for children who have not been considered as come of age by the state.

I had significant gaps in my knowledge of history, including on the most-debated World War II. I remembered how one state tried to conquer the others in Europe, formed two global axis, and how it was ended with Japan’s collapse after Hiroshima-Nagasaki. I remembered my emotions when reading the texts, which was practically nothing. And that was it. History was nothing but memorizing actors and dates.

Be honest and tell me you feel the same way.

When joining USIPP, however, my lack of understanding global history was challenged. Appearantly, World War II is ingrained deeply into the minds of modern-day Americans, academically and emotionally. They had to learn on specific details of the war and was encouraged to sympathize with it by the government, with Holocaust in particular.

My knowledge in Holocaust was extremely limited, and I tried my best to keep up with the well-versed Americans. All of them had a heartfelt connection with the genocide, though none were subjected to it themselves. Most of my trip in US was centered around the issue and I began to understand the emotions welling up on Holocaust after my first week there. It was emotionally exhausting.

I can understand the gap in treatment on understanding Holocaust between USA and Indonesia. The latter would have to reconsider in putting it into textbooks because it centered around simpathyzing with the one group Indonesians agree upon hating—the Jews. But the fact that it was the biggest planned genocide in history would never change.

By the end of USIPP, Jen, our US travel leader, gave us this book—Night by Elie Wiesel. She, a Jewish woman, didn’t want us to forget the forgotten and disregarded facts we learnt while being away from our home country. Simply said, I cried on my flight back from US to Indonesia while reading the book.

A couple days after she gave us the book, I heard the news that Wiesel died on July 2 2016.

And that was a long introduction.

 


 

 

Hitler had long claimed that he would annihilate all Jews on earth when he came into power. Wiesel and his neighbors would always laugh at his statement—after all, how can one destroy a race so big that it was scattered into countless regions?

When he was fourteen years of age, however, he was forced to acknowledge Hitler’s ambition. In 1942, he, his family, his village of Sighet, Transylvania, and other Jewish villages were beginning to be subjected in the early days of Holocaust. This book, Night, is a collection of his narrative recount of the event, viewed from the perspective of a devoted Jewish youth who then lost his faith in the process.

Wiesel’s book, while being labeled as one of the most prominent Holocaust books, provides his depth of emotional  explorations. He described how in such situation when human is subjected to extreme fear, such as in Holocaust, one would revert back to his natural instinct—the need to survive. During that time, moral foundations are not of importance, and so does religion. A short moment in a concentration camp can change a person’s view on the world altogether, as was with Wiesel’s.

He began by illustrating his youthful infatuation with his religion. He was told by his father that one can only learn Kabbalah once he/she reaches 30—but the fourteen-year-old didn’t take no for an answer. Wiesel interest in learning more on Jewish culture and religion brought him to a teacher-figure found in one of the most devastating-looking man. Again, Wiesel fell in love with his religion and prayed continuously to his God.

Wiesel was a child of God, yet it only took him one night to finally be convinced of Nietzsche’s claim—that yes, God is dead. God died surrounded by those painful cries of children in the giant crematoriums. He died while being hanged in the eyes a young Jewish boy with an angelic face. He died in the heart of a fourteen-year-old aspiring Kabbalist from Sighet when the boy entered Auschwitz, an area known to be the node of German Nazi’s concentration camp network.

Wiesel’s book contains a mass of mixed and intense emotions. Anger, despair, sadness, all mixed together in each sections of the book. However, starting the middle until the end, it began showing us an emotion unrecognizable to any socially-healthy humans—that is, nothingness.

As it was with other Holocaust survivors, Wiesel highlights how at the concentration camp, everyone is an animal. They laid on animalistic instincts and struggle to survive just to survive. In Wiesel’s case, this can be seen particularly when his father came to the brink of death until his release in April 11 1945. He had no reason to be alive—with no family waiting, no home, nothing. Nothing matters anymore, but he still came out alive with the inmate code “A-7713” tattooed on his left arm.

It is interesting how Wiesel described his first book—a form of responsibility to remember and speak as a Holocaust survivor. He highlights the importance of sharing the history so that in the future our children and grandchildren would not have to suffer the same fate. Many would claim this as a superficial act, but I rather see it as a manifestation of years of despair and emptiness. His anguish can be directed positively this way.

Many of the Holocaust survivor share his principle of promoting peace, one of which was Alfred Munzer, an Indonesian-raised Jew whom I had the pleasure to converse with during one of my USIPP discussions. Numerous Holocaust survivors are still trying to share the story and promote peace, keeping Wiesel’s legacy alive, with many of them being facilitated by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

What many people don’t know is that the Holocaust didn’t only target Jews. Homosexuals, gipsies, and other minority groups were also subjected to this. Interestingly, they are often forgotten—burried in between the positive campaigns actively held by Jewish public figures such as Wiesel and Munzer. This kind of approach had been growing even stronger in the recent years. I am still, however, in support of these gestures simply because they promote peace in general.

While I don’t particularly like how US framed itself as some sort of saviour of the day in many history books and museums, I do feel grateful, as a human, of the fact that they hosted the Jews after the anti-semitism died down—no matter how many political interest there were. The ruler of global governance after Soviet Union broke down should have the bigger heart for humanitarian issues to keep the unipolarism standing.

By the end of the book, the publisher enclosed Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech script. In the speech he condemned those who are aware of social injustices and keep silent. He explained how, any human’s fate can be yours or your children’s in the future, and each of us, as a human being have to fight for any injustices to prevent it from happening again.

Reading his notes made me feel sad. The bombings going around in Syria and other parts of the world had shown similar patterns to those before World War I and II. The increasing number of humanitarian activists doesn’t seem to be able to do any good to that. It seems like we’re gonna enter another cycle of war besides economic ones.

Would the late Wiesel’s efforts go to waste? Will humanity be able to move past forward public violence when faced with power and money?

 


 

PS: If any of you want to borrow the printed book or copy the digital book, please do not hesitate to contact me personally.

 

Lintang Cahyaningsih

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3 Comment

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