That's right, folks. I'm expanding my repertoire even further. Now this Blog isn't just about TV and movies and music. I'm now even going to give book reviews. You just never know what might come next!
With Remembrance Day approaching, I thought it only appropriate that I offer up my thoughts on Night by Elie Wiesel. This book came recommended to me by Sara Beer, Oprah Winfrey, my Aunt Linda, and several other high authorities on literature. On the cover of teh novel, there is a quote from the New York Times calling it: A slim volume of terrifying power.
It couldn't have been described more accurately.
The story is a first-person account from Mr. Wiesel of his time spent in concentration camps in Nazi Germany. In 1944, as a 15-year-old boy, Mr. Wiesel and his family, who were observant Jews, were taken from their home and sent to Auschwitz, and then to Buchenwald. He describes how hundreds of people were loaded into cattle cars for the journey. Upon arriving at the camp of horror, he witnessed babies being tossed into the air for target practice by the Gestapo. Families were torn apart (including his own), and he describes the crematorium, where his mother and little sister had to go. The crematorium, where bodies were thrown into a fire and burned, with the thick, acrid smoke of death continually pouring out from a large chimney. Most women and children were automatically sentenced to death there. The males had a chance, but if they were not deemed fit and healthy, they were sent to that crematorium, as well.
Elie and his father survived that first selection, and countless others afterwards. However, they faced such vicious and traumatic experiences in the months to follow that one must wonder if they wouldn't have been better off in that fire.
It was a shock to me to read about what these people went through. It was a shock to the people then, too, as Elie remembers asking his father: "Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How would the world remain silent?" It is a question the author struggles with throughout the novel. Of course, there is no logical answer, other than the fact that people just did not want to face that horror. It was beyond belief; it was easier to ignore it than try to deal with what was going on under Hitler's reign of terror.
Believe it or not, this is the first time I've actually read a thorough account of what actually happened during the Holocaust. I knew it had happened, I remember reading about it in high school history, but I never allowed myself to be truly immersed in what had happened. Maybe it's because I didn't want to believe that such an atrocious act of cruelty could have actually occured. Maybe it's because I didn't want to think humans could treat other humans, regardless of race or religion, so horribly. Like those people who remained silent back then, it was just easier to pretend that it had never happened.
With these concentration camps in Nazi Germany, Hitler's goal, as Mr. Wiesel writes in his preface, was "to leave behind a world in ruins in which Jews would seem never to have existed." In essence, they were to be entirely wiped out. Millions of people were tortured, battered, and finally burned, then their bones and ashes dumped into massive, unmarked graves. How inhumane...how unbelievably cruel... Reading about it made me feel sick; it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. And the fact that Mr. Wiesel, who actually lived through this real-life horror and survived to tell his story, uses such blunt, matter-of-fact descriptions only adds to the terror of it all. Watching people being murdered daily, and being the victim of countless acts of threats and abuse - it had all become so commonplace for him that it didn't even shock him anymore; it didn't even make him feel anymore.
Elie's guilt over not being able to sit with his father as he lay dying in the infirmary is evident in this book. He writes of how he wished his father would quit calling his name in his delirious state, as he feared the blows of the SS officers. He just wanted his father to be quiet and just die so that he would no longer be burdened by having to stick with him. He recalls the day he realized his father was gone for good: "I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!..."
Mr. Wiesel does not want people to forget. It is important that his story, and the stories of other victims of war, be passed down to the next generation and the generation after that, so that they may understand this horror and never allow it to occur again. We don't live in a world free of pain and fighting now; it still rages on, and although it is happening in countries far away, we should not be ignoring it. It's easier to pretend it isn't happening, but we must face the fact that there are still hundreds of people facing unimaginable terror everyday. We have troops over there who are fighting and dying everyday. Hitler is gone, but there is still pain and suffering; still hunger, and poverty, and torturing, and death. Mr. Wiesel writes: "Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. How can we not be sensitive to their plight? Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere."
So on this upcoming Remembrance Day, I urge to read Elie Weisel's Night, and really face that horror. Remember what he and the rest of the Jews went through. It would be easier to ignore. But we owe it to the memory of those millions of people who died, and who are still dying today, to listen to their stories, and do our best to ensure that our world will one day be free of that suffering and unimaginable pain.
Lest we forget.