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.
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).
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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).