Night, by Elie Wiesel (2006, orginally pub. 1958)
A couple days ago, I finally sat down and read Night. We all know of Night, whether or not we have read it. Last year, a friend of mine who was interning in D.C. got to meet Elie Wiesel and received a kiss on the cheek from him and I thought, “Aww, good old Elie Wiesel.” I felt like I knew him, even though I had never read anything he’s written. He’s one of those authors. We all know him, and we all know Night.
Night was one of those books that I always felt I should read, but never got around to it. Perhaps I was sub-consciously putting it off. I mean, who wants to read about suffering so great that death seems preferable? If I read Anne Frank or Devil’s Arithmetic in middle school, do I still need to read this? What will “one more book about the Holocaust” do for me?
But I found a copy of it at my local library’s FriendShop (where books cost between $0.50-$1.50), and thought, “It’s time.”
So one evening last week, I cracked open Night. I am a before-bed reader, always have been, but as I started to read it, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish it before going to sleep. It isn’t a restful read. Only 115 pages, broken into short one-or-two-page sections, it’s hard not to read Night in one sitting. I had to stop reading only a little way in, for fear of horrifying dreams I would surely have. I had to finish it the next day, with the sun shining through the windows.
For those of you who don’t know, Night is Elie Wiesel’s memoir chronicling his time spent in Auschwitz, the famous Polish concentration camp, as fifteen-year-old boy from 1944-45. The story starts in his small village in Transylvania, Sighet, where Wiesel and his family lived. Assured that the rumors they were hearing would not find their way to Sighet, the Wiesels stayed in their home until S.S. officers came to their village and set up Jewish ghettos. Later, those in the ghettos were loaded onto cattle cars and unknowingly taken to Auschwitz. Upon getting off the cattle car, Wiesel and his father were shoved to the left, while his mother and sisters were shoved to the right, marking the last moment Wiesel would see his female relatives. The rest of the story follows Wiesel and his father while they work at Auschwitz III, the labor camp, their march to Gleiwitz (so as to avoid liberation efforts), and their final move to Buchenwald, where Wiesel’s father dies a mere three months before the camp’s liberation. Wiesel does nothing to gloss over what he saw and felt, including the flames of the crematoria, the stench of burning flesh, human waste, and decaying bodies, the life slipping from a child’s eyes as he hangs from the gallows, the pain of a running on a puss-filled foot, the temptation to let his father die…
As I was writing this, I ran across the interview that Oprah conducted with Elie Wiesel in 2006 at Auschwitz on YouTube (split into parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Watching Wiesel talk about his book and his experiences brought me some perspective. Why do we read Night and Diary of a Young Girl ? Why do we watch The Pianist and Schindler’s List? The “scandal on the level of creation” deserves constant recognition, Wiesel reminds us, because it is only then that when we see similar scandals, as we always will, we will “be there to shout, ‘No. We remember.'”
Somehow, I don’t feel right giving Night a rating. Did I absolutely love it? Am I angry that it is over? No, and no. But how can I give it anything but the highest rating? How can I rate a person’s experience?