In the small town of Sighet in Transylvania, Elie Wiesel was a young Jewish boy devoted to his study of scripture. He lived there with his parents and sisters until he was 15 when the Nazi army arrived and forced them, along with the rest of the Jewish community, to German internment camps. With his father by his side, Elie recounts the terrifying events of their journey to and imprisonment at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Along the way Elie finds himself in conflict with his beliefs and the religion he was once dedicated to, which has become the reason for his suffering. The autobiography, Night by Elie Wiesel, is one man’s attempt to truthfully and honestly describe the Holocaust, which due to its horrific nature, will probably never be completely accomplished.
Wiesel’s short novel is concise and impactful. He does not spend long stretches of time in a single moment trying to the describe the pain and emotions that would pale in comparison to the actual events. Instead, he simply describes the scenes with all his senses. What he saw, heard, felt, smelled, and sometimes tasted. Through those descriptions we understand, to the point that any of us can, the emotional weight of each moment. Whether it is seeing his mother and sisters separated from him and his father or the piles of dead bodies covered in snow, we can feel the pain, loss, and at some points the near indifference Elie and the other prisoners felt. There are several, brief moments, where Wiesel invites us into his internal thoughts and we begin to understand the separation from his faith. At times he casts his God aside completely, and at others he tries to rationalize a world where both his God and the Holocaust exist. In these moments we see Elie transcend the physical and visceral consequences of the Holocaust and embrace spiritual loss as well.
There is strength that comes from Wiesel’s strict depictions of events. His lack of certain description shows the restraint that comes from understanding that there are no words to describe the personal and emotional consequences of the interment camps. That the concrete events, while only part of the truth, must be told. He trusts that the magnitude of the Holocaust, beyond death and physical suffering, can be extrapolated in an intuitive way from his accounts and brief moments of introspection.
While I do not feel comfortable saying that I enjoyed Night, due to its nature, it carries a great burden and is deftly written. It is a powerful novel that needs to be read and never forgotten.