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Eliezer Wieselís Holocaust experiences

Eliezer Wiesel was born in 1928 in Romania. He was deported to Auschwitz in April 1944 with his family when he was just fifteen. His mother and little sister were killed soon after and his father perished at Buchenwald in January 1945. He and his two elder sisters Hilda and Bea survived the challenges of concentration camp experiences posed by Hitlerís notorious crimes. Wiesel started to learn only after the war. He attended the Sorbonne University between 1948 and 1951.

Eliezer Wiesel

In 1956 he moved to the United States of America and was naturalized in 1963. He has been a foreign correspondent in newspapers and a distinguished professor at City College of the City University, New York in 1972 and at Boston University in 1976. He functioned as the Chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council. He has won several international awards both as a writer and a human rights activist. In 1986 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. He has been a novelist, memoirlist, short story writer, essayist and dramatist. Most of his writing has been in French.

The text of Night is short (only 113 pages) with nine chapters. It revolves around the life of its key character Elie. Elie is a Jewish boy of twelve. His parents own a grocery shop in Signet in Romania. Elie has two elder sisters, Hilda and Bea and a younger sister, Tzipora. Elie is keeping a friendly relationship with Moche the Beadle (a church officer appointed to keep order) and is studying Jewish mysticism (Cabbala).

War times

One day the Hungarian police cram the Jews into cattle trucks and they believe that they are being taken to work because of the war times. Mochie who has returned from his forced deportation tells Elie that the Jews are taken to Poland by the Gestapo (Nazi Police) to dig graves and the Jews are shot there. Moche encourages Ellieís family to flee for safety. But Ellieís father keeps silent.

Until the spring of 1944 nothing serious happen to them from the end of 1942. In the Spring of 1944 Nazi Germany suffers a severe defeat on the Russian front. Rather unexpectedly the German forces invade Poland and they come to Signet. The Jews were not alarmed at first as the Germans were kind to begin with. But on the seventh day of their arrival the Germans arrest the Jewish leaders and the Jews were kept under house arrest. The Hungarian police burst into Jewish houses and confiscate the jewels, gold and other valuables of the Jews. The Jews are dragged out of their houses and lined up along the road.

Then began the deportation. The Weasels too are being deported. In the first chapter of Night the beginnings of the dehumanizing process is described. In chapter two the Jews crowded in the cattle wagon is described. People can sit only in turns. They arrive at Burkina at midnight. In chapter three the male and female segregation takes place. As such the Weasel family is split. Elie is questioned by the German doctor Mengale about his bio data. Elie says that he is eighteen, fit and a farmer. Elie sees with horror that a lorry delivers a load of babies into the flames in a ditch. Now Elie is in the barracks of the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp.

Crazy brutality

The barracks are like hell filled with crazy men and bestial brutality. At five a.m. they are driven naked from the barracks as the Kaposi beat them, they are soaked with petrol as a disinfectant and then run through a shower. Then in another barrack they have to choose their clothes that suit each one. This chapter describes the horrible life and working conditions that Elie and his father had to endure. In chapter four, Elie comes to know of the homosexual practices in the camp. The practice of removing gold crowns from prisonersí teeth and that of Elie is also described here. Elie meets a French girl at the warehouse.

Elie and father get beatings from the guards. The bombings, the electric fence and the hangings are observed by Elie. Elie gets the taste of human corpses in the soup given to him. In chapter five a very sensitive situation of father and son meeting with tears in their eyes, is given. Elieís fatherís health is deteriorating steeply. Elie is operated without anesthesia and an abscess on his heal is drained by the doctor.

The severe cold of the winter is described and the welcome news of Red Army coming near has become a rumour among the prisoners. But the fear of Hitler annihilating all Jews before the arrival of Red Army, drives in a chill in Elieís blood. At midnight the camp prisoners including Elie and his father have to run away together with the Germans for survival as the Russians are on the way. Chapter six gives an account of the survival run. Those who fail to run are shot by the SS Guards.

Elie and his father rest a while after a long 40 mile run. Again they march and they are nearing Gelidity and enter the barracks there, dead tired and with swollen legs. They remain there for three days without food or drink. Guns are heard, nearby and at dawn they come out of the barracks. Selection are done. Those who are unfit to move are shot dead and fortunately Elie and his father escape death. They march again and reach a railway line. After some hours they are loaded into a cattle wagan in a train and the convoy departs. Chapter seven describes the horrible train journey where those who have died are thrown away after stripping their clothes. Elieís father was thought dead but he was in a deep sleep and Elie could save him.

Survival theory

The prisoners survive on snow as no food is given to them. Although there were one hundred prisoners in the train at the beginning only twelve survive the ten day cold journey without food and water. Elie survived but his father is almost dying. Chapter eight gives the harrowing experience of Elie and his father. His father experiences a painful death. The last chapter (chapter nine) gives a changing situation while Elie is in the childrenís block. Elie lapses into a state of total apathy after his fatherís death. But soon after he is liberated by the allies.

The key character in Night is Elie Weasel. To begin with he is a religious child but it is unfortunate that he became a prisoner in Hitlerís time. He is intelligent. He loved his father and tried to keep him alive until the end. His father Chloe Weasel inspires pity and admiration. Though physically weak he survives the hardships in the concentration camps. But the final long journey by foot and by train was too much for his flimsy body. There are powerful symbols in this novel.

The title ďNightĒ itself reminds the reader of the black years of crime during Hitlerís period in power. Again night refers to the numerous dark nights, long hardships and horrible journeys in the novel. It is also the death by genocide. The flames in open pits where babies are thrown present a sinful situation. It minds of hell. The bells that sound in the camps remind of regulation and death. The cold winter is described in great detail towards the end of the novel. The imagery of snow, cold and wind described in the ten day long journey reminds of the severity of the living conditions and the fight for survival.

Thematic expression

The themes are related firstly to the sufferings of the Jews mainly on ethnic grounds, secondly there is an expression of manís inhumanity to fellow men and thirdly the novel expresses the deep emotional relationship between father and son. But despite the challenges and threats the human potential for survival is highlighted in the novel.

Night is a powerful memoir of inhumanity during the Holocaust. It gives a factual account of the most terrible of the extermination camps, the Auschwitz in Poland. The Holocaust means complete extinction. It also gives an account of the anti-Semitism and Nazi persecution of the Jews with first hand experience. A very important feature of this text is the use of imagery and symbolism.

Wiesels style has been described as concixe and uncluttered. Yet infused with a highly emotional biblical mysticism, gleaming again and again with the metaphor of the poet and having a tender intimacy. Some critics consider Night boldly combines the surreal and the supernatural with harsh facts and that the parable, the rabbinic tale supports and sometimes substitutes for narrative (Rucco, 2003).


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