It is the story of a young Jewish man's life during WWII - first and foremost about the events of the Holocaust but also about a young man's loss of faith, and his coming of age during a very turbulent time in history.
Night starts off in a little town called Sighet in Transylania, where many Jews lived, almost untouched by the horrors of war. Life was going on as normal until one day all the foreign Jews were expelled from the city. One of them, Moche the Beadle, escapes and comes back to warn the Jews of Sighet of what he has seen, and what is to come, but they will not listen to him. Life continues and nothing happens for a couple of years but during 1944 the war is coming closer and closer. Elie's father still has a chance to obtain exit visas to enable his family and himself to emigrate to Palestine, but he says he is too old to start again, so the Wiesel family stays. Eventually, the German's come and in due course forced transportation of the Jews of Sighet begins with Elie and his family ending up at the reception centre for Auschwitz at Buchenwald. His mother and sister are separated from them and never seen again, whilst Elie and his father must fight to stay together, to stay one step in front of the selection process, for selection means death in the camps of Dr Mengele.
I am not going to write more of the horrors of the concentration camps that are described within the book. The images are those that we are familiar with, and yet should never become immune to or complacent about, but I leave them to be discovered by other readers. Suffice to say, they are horrors and horrifying to think that human beings can do that kind of thing to one another for any reason.
I do however want to write a little about the loss of faith, and the coming of age aspects. When we first meet Elie he is an extremely conscientious student of the Jewish faith, and yet, when all around him people are counselling each other to keep faith, Elie's reaction is the opposite:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my Faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
It was interesting to me as someone who grew up in a fairly religious household to read of the struggles of another to come to terms with a god that would allow these events to happen. It was also challenging to read about people having to do whatever they could to survive..sometimes at the expense of friends and loved ones.
This book also reminded me of a trip that I made to the former concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich. This was a day that made such an impression on me. The atmosphere felt palpable as we walked through the gates of Dachau - oppression, death and fear in the air even after 50 years of non use.
This little book was very confronting, challenging and ultimately a rewarding read. I look forward to getting hold of the remaining two books in the trilogy called Dawn and The Accident. I should add that the version that I read was not the newly published Oprah book that is apparently an updated translation, with an all new introduction by Elie himself. When, and if, this version makes it to Australia I will probably buy it as this is definitely a book that could be read over and over, with new lessons to be learned each time.
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