Friday 11 March 2011

Wiesel, Elie "Night"

Wiesel, Elie (Eliezer Vizl) "Night" (French: La Nuit/Yiddish: Un di Velt Hot Geshvign)  - 1958

Elie Wiesel wrote this novel as a report about his life in the concentration camps Buchenwald and Auschwitz/Oswiecim.

Seldom did we agree more on a book than this time. We thought it was shocking and unbelievable. The enormity, the plans, everything was so calculated. Horrifying to see what people are able to do. We could understand that people wouldn't believe it at the time because it is hard to believe even now.

There was a lot of denial going on but also misinformation. The concentration camp Terezín (Theresienstadt) in the Czech Republic was a showcase where they were demonstrating that they only got the Jews together.

We were not sure what to think about these people's beliefs. Some of them praying to the bitter end, others, like the author, believing God is dead.

We noticed that people who are degraded to animals loose their human touch. The thing they could do to your mind, how people can accept cruelty as a fact and accept this.

We also agreed that we have to keep reading this so we can believe it. This is especially important now, we have to keep the story going because a lot of the witnesses keep dying.

Another subject: elections. If the ordinary voter doesn't take up his right, the extreme parties will gain more percentage. We cannot let this happen. We blame the media for bad information, but other than in the thirties of the last century, we can get the information, but we often choose not to.

We didn't agree, though, that twelve year olds should read it in school. That might be a little too early both to understand the whole background and to get to terms with the impact such a book has on someone.

We also talked about the fact that religion is often used as an excuse for conflicts that usually have quite another reason, often money and power.

Does Elie Wiesel still believe in God? Only he can answer that question and we couldn't find that he did that anywhere. He said in his speech that we are all orphans. Is that because God is dead?

I have read quite a few accounts of survivors of the Nazi time and some of them of victims from the concentration camps. I think he really deserves the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 1986 since he tries to remind people about what happened without just throwing the other stone. He doesn't excuse his tormentors (why should he?) but he doesn't blame it all on everybody either. (If you don't have good nerves, you probably shouldn't read this as every account of any Jew from WWII has to be horrible).

Some of the concentration camps were also used for "medical research". You cannot understand how you can put people on different levels, treat them like they were even less than animals. Someone mentioned a "study" done in Tuskegee, Alabama. You can read more about that here.
In this connection, a famous sentence was brought up:
"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" from the novel "Animal Farm" by George Orwell.
But this was not the first time this existed. Any kind of slavery does this, you can only treat a human being as your possession if you don't treat them like a human being. I had just found an interesting site about 200 years of slavery, looks like a series that was broadcast in the States, but the website * is rather interesting, too.
There seems to be a series on PBS, looks very interesting, maybe they'll show it here, one day, or not …
The Terrible Transformation 1450-1750
Revolution 1750-1805
Brotherly Love 179-1831 
Judgment Day 1831-1865

Then there is the "famous" (infamous) Lebensborn (fount of life) which officially encouraged SS officers to have more children. But they also had camps where "Aryan" women had children with "Aryan" soldiers, so it was a real breeding programme. Read more about it here.

If you haven't got enough of reading about the topic of the Nazis, everyone of us seemed to know at least one other book worth reading, so here is a list of that literature.
Corrie Ten Boom "The Hiding Place"
(You can also get a short version in Easy English, maybe for your children: The Secret Room) (De schuilplaats), 1971
Websites:  Wikipedia and amazon.
Lois Lowry "Number the Stars" (youth book, 10-14 yrs) - 1990 (Goodreads)
Set in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1943, this 1990 Newbery winner tells of a 10-year-old girl who undertakes a dangerous mission to save her best friend.
Websites:  Wikipedia and amazon.
Jurek Becker "Jacob the Liar" (Jacob der Lügner), 1969
Websites: Wikipedia, amazon
Imre Kertész "Fatelessness" (older translation: Fateless) (Sorstalanság), 1975
Websites: Wikipedia, amazon  
Tessa de Loo "The Twins" (De Tweeling) - 2000
Websites: Wikipedia, amazon
Todd Strasser (pen name: Morton Rhue) "The Wave"- 1988
Websites: Wikipedia, amazon
J.N. Stroyar "The Children's War" - 2001 - ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BOOKS EVER
What would have happened had the Nazis won the war. How would we live now? Quite shocking!!!
Website: amazon  
Elizabeth Rosner "The Speed of Life" - 2001 - Another one of my absolute favourites.
How do Holocaust survivors and their children come to terms with their memories.
Websites: Wikipedia, amazon   

We also talked about several movies covering our theme. The first one was about an orchestra that saved Jews who played in it. The only thing I could find was the girl orchestra from Auschwitz/Oswiecim. (here).
Schindler's List
based on the book by Thomas Keneally "Schindler's Ark"
Zwartboek - (The Black Book)
Band of Brothers
The Twins - movie made after the book by Tessa de Loo (which we read in this book club).

Then we mentioned other movies we thought worth seeing, these two on the life of the Germans in East Germany (the movie received the Oscar this year for best foreign picture): "The Lives of Others" (Das Leben der anderen).
And "Goodbye Lenin", a funny, yet thought-provoking movie about a son who has to recreate GDR for his mother who was in a coma while the wall came down and now can't face any changes.

We discussed this in our international book club in March 2007.

From the back cover:

"In Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel's memoir Night, a scholarly, Orthodox teenager is wracked with guilt at having survived the horror of the Holocaust & the genocidal campaign that consumed his family. His memories of the nightmare worlds of Auschwitz-Birkenau & Buchenwald present him with an intolerable question: how can the god he once so fervently believed in have allowed these monstrous events to occur? There are no easy answers in this harrowing book, which probes life's essential riddles with the lucid anguish only great literature achieves. It marks the crucial first step in Wiesel's lifelong project to bear witness for those who died."

Original Yiddish title: Un di Velt Hot Geshvign/And the World Remained Silent

Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986 as he "has emerged as one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterise the world".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

* Unfortunately, some websites disappear after a while. Sorry.

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2023.


  1. Wow, a lot of thought went into this post Marianne.
    I too have read about slavery and genocides with interest and horror.
    Despite the post World War II comments like "Never again", we continue to see genocides: former Sarajevo, Rwanda, Sudan. It seems that whenever people are feeling that life isn't fair for them, they look for an "other" to blame for the situation, whether it be an ethnic, religious, political, gender, or cultural difference.

    1. Thank you, Shonna. It did indeed. This was not just a book club book that everybody wanted to read and discuss, it is also of special interest to me.
      You are totally right, the "Never again" has been broken on numberless occasions already, far far too often. And I think we can only try to build a better world by talking about what happened, for example in a book club or on a blog like this. The more people are made aware of it, the closer we will hopefully get to eradicate this. I know we are far away from it and I don't think we will see a peaceful world during our lifetime but one can always hope.

      Thank you for your comment. Have a good day,