Thursday, December 31, 2009

Night by Elie Wiesel

In retrospect I must confess that I do not know, or no longer know, what I wanted to achieve with my words.  I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer -- or my life, period -- would not have become what it is:  that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.  (from Night, page viii)

I've read several Holocaust memoirs and novels over the past year, and each one has the power to shock me, sicken me, make me angry, and make me cry.  Despite the pain and the horrors within their pages, I continue to read them because I believe it is important to remember.  We should not forget the millions who lost their lives, and like Elie Wiesel says in the above passage, we must not allow the world to forget what evil has been done.

In Night, Wiesel tells how he and his family were sent to Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944.  They had lived in Sighet, Transylvania, and were told of the horrors that awaited them two years prior by a foreign Jew who was among the first deported and had escaped from a trench filled with the bodies of massacred Jews.  But no one paid him any mind.  Soon after arriving at Auschwitz, Wiesel -- age 15 -- and his father are separated from his mother and sisters.
"Men to the left!  Women to the right!"

Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion.  Eight simple, short words.  Yet that was the moment when I left my mother.  There was no time to think, and I already felt my father's hand press against mine.  We were alone.  In a fraction of a second I could see my mother, my sisters, move to the right.  Tzipora was holding Mother's hand.  I saw them walking farther and farther away.  Mother was stroking my sister's blond hair, as if to protect her.  And I walked on with my father, with the men.  I didn't know that this was the moment in time and the place where I was leaving my mother and Tzipora forever.  (page 29)

Wiesel's words are so simple, yet so powerful and heartbreaking.  He goes on to describe the struggles he and his father endured every day for months and months at the hands of the Nazis -- how they marched in the snow with barely any clothes or shoes, how they watched a son kill his father over a crust of bread, how he watched his half-dead father be beaten by an SS officer.

Wiesel's recollections of his experiences during the Holocaust are vivid and haunting.  His words are heavy with darkness, desolation, and the loss of faith in the midst of evil.  Night is a book that stays with you long after you turn the last page with a heavy heart.  If you only read one Holocaust memoir in your lifetime, let it be this one.

I read Night for the WWII reading challenge at War Through the Generations.

Disclosure:  I won a copy of Night in a blog giveaway.


bermudaonion said...

Vance read this in high school and has been telling me I should read it ever since. It sounds like he was right.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Wiesel first amazed me at the age of 16 in my sophomore literature class. I have since reread his work and he continues to move me deeply. Always glad to see that others are being exposed to his work as well.

Ti said...

I read this one for book group. It was hard to read at times, but it provided for a lot of discussion. I didn't know that this was part of a series though until just a little bit ago.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Beautiful review, Anna!

Happy New Year to you and your family!

gautami tripathy said...

This is on my wish list!

Happy New Year, Anna! Give my love to The Girl too!

Serena said...

I read this book in high school and in college. Unfortunately, I've misplaced my copy! I may have to purchase another copy with my gift cards. I remember being incredibly moved by this book. I wonder how I would feel in light of reading Hilda Stern Cohen's book.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This quite the intense book. I could only read it for short amounts of time. Still I'm glad I read it. I think it should be required reading for the entire human race.

She said...

Oh man, I've read this one about 2348902384 times, and it continues to be my favorite Holocaust novel. Sometimes simple is better! Happy New Year and great review :D

Jo-Jo said...

I read this book a couple years ago for a college Holocaust class and it certainly excellent. Definitely has reserved a place in my memory.

Aarti said...

I read this in high school and it's so powerful. It has really stuck with me, even though I've never read anything else by Wiesel. I remember going through the Holocaust museum in DC and thinking a lot about Night.

Alyce said...

I have this on my shelf, but haven't read it yet. I've been waiting until I'm in the right mood to handle it because I know it's going to be serious and sad reading.

Stephanie said...

What a beautiful and powerful review! I started this once but didn't finish it. Maybe I will read it in 2010.

Literary Feline said...

This really is a good memoir and one that I know is often on high school reading lists. Great review, Anna.

Toni said...

The book is powerful and important. And so is your review. Thank you. Hard to review, and hard to comment. Thank you.

Staci said...

This book broke my heart and it's been years that I read it but it is still with me today....great review.

Nikki in Niagara said...

I really "enjoy" reading Holocaust memoirs and have read more than my my fair share and would like to read this one but from all the reviews I've read and heard about it, I'm kind of scared to read it.

Is this the one that has a scene with babies or a baby? You'll know what I mean, if I've got the right book.

Tasha said...

I was considering this book earlier today at the library. I opted for a different title, but this is one I hope to read someday.

wisteria said...

I also read this a long time ago, but the message and the powerful emotions it evoke are still fresh in my mind. Great review.

Anna said...

~bermudaonion: It's a tough read, but a worthwhile one.

~A Bookshelf Monstrosity: This was a re-read for me, too. A very important one. After all the reading I've done about WWII history in the past year, it was a much more meaningful read this time around.

~Ti: I just found that out when I was creating the reading list for the WWII challenge. I'm going to have to read Day and Dawn at some point.

~rhapsodyinbooks: Thanks!

~gautami: I hope you get a chance to read it soon. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

~Serena: Just let me know and you can borrow my copy.

~Sandy: I can see why the book makes so many required reading lists, and I agree that everyone should read it.

~She: Simple is better in this case for sure. His writing packs a powerful punch.

~Jo-Jo: It definitely is an unforgettable memoir.

~Aarti: I probably should visit the Holocaust museum since I'm in the D.C. area. I've never been able to forget any of Holocaust memoirs I've written, and I'm sure the museum would bring them to mind.

~Alyce: It's definitely a heartbreaking book, and you have to be in the right frame of mind to handle it.

~Stephanie: I hope you get a chance to finish it. It's a hard read, but worth it.

~Literary Feline: Thanks!

~Toni: Thank you. It was a hard review to write.

~Staci: It's definitely a book that sticks with you long, long after you've read it.

~Nicola: It might be. I've read a lot of Holocaust books in the past year. I think you're right, and I think I know what passage you're talking about. Sorry that I didn't respond to your comment earlier when all the details of the book were fresh in my mind.

~Charley: I hope you read it at some point. It's not easy, but you won't be sorry you read it.

~Wisteria: I agree. While I may not remember all the details, the emotion, the heaviness, the pain are still with me.