Why Did Elie Wiesel Write “Night”?
“Night,” by Elie Wiesel is a small book of one hundred pages, and it depicts the 4 most difficult years of the history of humankind (1941-1945). The author puts a question to himself and gives answers, “Why did I write it? Did I write it so as not to go mad or, on the contrary, to go mad in order to understand the nature of madness?”(vii). It relates to one of the greatest tragedies that overtook a particular race, and the story that has emerged straight from the heart of the author. How God deals with a particular section of humankind atrociously and allows the perpetrators of the crimes a free hand? Notwithstanding this serious and profound confusion, he transcends the bitter feelings and remains an optimist. Offering further justification for writing this book he states, “For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time” (xv). This is the inspiration behind him to write the book.
Nazis threw babies into the gas chambers and killed them by spraying bullets. The conditions in the concentration camps were beyond tolerable limits. He, along with his father, was shifted to different camps, and not sure of reaching the destination, each time they thought that it was their final journey. Each shifting exercise resulted in fatal casualties of the internees. Describing one such gory incident he states, “His cold eyes stared at me. At last, he said wearily: “I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.” (80) Killing animals has an economic perspective, but killing human beings on a mass scale, with whom there was no personal enmity, was a heinous act. Wiesel was a young boy of fifteen when he was separated from rest of the family but the only saving grace was that his father was with him in those arduous years. He writes candidly, “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes” (34). In the end, they were liberated by the Allied forces. Wiesel admits he is a writer not by choice, but by compulsion. The theme of this book centers on his hearty prayer that such gory incidents should never repeat in future. Change of heart of each individual can only guide the humankind to the portals of peace. Such an orientation needs to be given right from childhood. Only then, world peace becomes an attainable reality.
In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech delivered in Oslo on December 10, 1986 he candidly says, “Thank you for building bridges between people and generations. Thank you, above all, for helping humankind make peace it’s most urgent and noble aspiration” (117). He advises people of all countries to shun complacency and carry out the responsibilities to humankind. He argues, “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere” (119). He states, “That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices” (118). “Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow,” he asserts, mentioning the initial hesitancy of the world powers to come to the rescue of the suffering Jews in Germany (xiii). One cannot blame the middle level leadership for the atrocities committed, of the Nazi forces as they were acting under orders. Situational psychology is crucial to understand their behavior. The top leadership took recourse to repetition of lies from a thousand platforms, to justify the heinous acts. In his speech Wiesel argues, “As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame” (120). Each one of us is responsible to contribute to the overall welfare of humankind.
Wiesel has firm conviction that some Supreme Power governs the world. This is not a researched book in the technical sense of the term. Human heart is the ideal research laboratory and therefore the merit of narrations in this book is exceptional. Wiesel states that one can forgive, but not forget. One section of global society should not observe mutely the atrocities committed on another section. Use of force is justified if the ends are noble. Since violence is not the permanent solution, the choice before the humankind is to seek peace.
Wiesel, Elie. Night (Oprahs Book Club). Trans. Marion Wiesel. Hill and Wang, 2006. Print.