Book Thoughts | Night by Elie Wiesel

night by elie wieselWhat is there to say about Elie Wiesel’s Night that has not already been said? It’s one of those books that has been so widely read, about a period of history that is among the most documented, and that has received such high honors and acclaim that I suspect there isn’t much I can add, except perhaps a few thoughts on my own experience.

Night was selected by my book group for our June read. Our wives (we’re all men) give us a lot of flak because so many of our discussions tend to come back to war, and after reading this one, I’m not sure we’re really going to break ground when we meet next month to discuss it. Sure, it’s about the the Holocaust, about Wiesel’s experience at Auschwitz and Buna and other camps, and the horrors that the Nazi’s imposed as they stripped Jews of their humanity. But, still: World War II. Nazi’s. It’s not new ground.

And, yet, there’s something here in Night that should never be forgotten. We live in comfortable times–even in spite of apparently volatile and strange politics, where a game show host cum faux billionaire with a penchant for jingoistic and inflammatory rhetoric can garner the nomination for president of the United States…and the only other choice Americans have is a woman with a tenuous relationship to truth but an easy willingness to sell her time and access to the highest bidders.

But none of that compares to the dark and in humane place that Germany took all of Europe and much of the world to in the 1940s. Yet, you can read all the histories, statistics, and maps, and none will give a picture of what it was to be a Jew in Hitler’s “Final Solution” quite the same way that the personal accounts of the survivors will provide. Of those, Weisel’s voice is vivid, economical, and potent. He tells his story with a parsimony that lends itself to someone who has spent innumerable hours reliving and retelling the events of his early teen years, from his home in Hungarian Transylvania in training to become a Jewish scholar, to collection and detention in the ghetto, to Auschwitz and…well.

Wiesel wastes no words in the telling of his story, leaving the reader to draw his own lessons and conclusions. The result was powerful, moving, poignant, and heart-wrenching. With precision and coldness, the Nazis stripped away the humanity from millions of innocents, Jews, gypsies and others found on the wrong side of Hitler’s Final Solution. Wiesel does not concern himself with history, though; his story is personal, his own fight to survive and retain his humanity, to not betray his fellow man, his father, and himself. I couldn’t put Night down. It’s not a pleasant tale, but perhaps we need to be reminded, regularly, lest we allow the inhumanity to slip in again. Perhaps no other generation in history has been as blessed, materially and otherwise, as mine, and yet, we have not become wiser for it, but only more entitled.


About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.