Elie Wiesel: A Mystery of True Identity

“What and how they speak may not be so remarkable as that they speak at all” (qtd in Estess par.1) are words that Ted Estess uses to describe Elie Wiesel’s writing career and, specifically, what Wiesel incorporates in his books. In this critique, Estess states his opinion on characters in Wiesel’s popular books, mentioning aspects of these narratives like style and tone. The first main point Estess goes over is Wiesel’s use of questioning, which he says distinguishes itself from other styles of questioning: “…the shape his questioning takes … has for meaningful dwelling in the world…The shape of his questioning is an ancient one-that of storytelling” (qtd. in Estess 1). What makes Wiesel’s questioning styles unique is that readers will understand his stories through questioning the actual story and will also figure out the meaning behind what Wiesel is actually saying through his words. This questioning leads to the next main point in Wiesel’s books, his perspective on God. Wiesel tries to understand his identity and who he really is by questioning God himself.

As described by Estess, Night doesn’t give the actual answer about one’s self-identity, though this inquiry is answered within Wiesel’s second major book, Dawn: “Dawn questions precisely the notion that the answers will be found within by the solitary individual” (qtd. in Estess 10). In Dawn, the main character realizes what he has become as a person and what he believed was right to do: “But when you lose a friend everyday, it doesn’t hurt so much. And I’d lost plenty of friends in my time…That was the real reason I followed God to Palestine and became a terrorist; I had no more friends to lose” (Wiesel 170). In this example, the main character reflects how he came to his current part of life from past experiences and shows how he answers his own question of what he is as a person, and what he would describe himself as. This tactic closely relates itself to another common mechanic used in Wiesel’s writing, questioning self-identity. A common style that Estess mentions in which Wiesel uses predominantly in many of his books entails masking the characters and showing them as “unfinished.” Estess believes that masks are more for dead than alive people and that is an inadequate model of a character. Wiesel says “ A Jew has no right to wear disguises.” (qtd. in Estess 3). Another important detail about Wiesel’s style of writing is that he focuses on the characters, from feelings and emotions to their progression throughout the story, even though Wiesel does not really concern himself with the plot or action to a pronounced extent. As articulated by Estess about this focus on the characters, “His Plotting in the longer stories is extraordinarily loose, providing only an external frame for the exploration of the interiority of his characters” (qtd. in Estess 6). A character searching for what he or she truly is as a person shows up a handful amount of times in many of Wiesel’s writings; for example, in the book Night, the main character talks about his soul and what his deepest desires as a person are: “I thought of us as damned souls wandering through the void, souls condemned to wander through space until the end of time seeking redemption, seeking oblivion, without any hope of finding either” (Wiesel 54).

Next, Wiesel’s writing shows how his characters “move toward action because they wish to gain a story for their own lives” (qtd. in Estess 6). The reason that Wiesel incorporates so much action in his works is that “he experienced so deeply in the Holocaust the consequences of the failure to act” (qtd. in Estess 6). This failure to act against wrongdoing appears throughout Wiesel’s memoirs, as in Night when the main character watched one of the guards in the Holocaust camp beat his father to death. In this situation, the main character wanted to act against this brutality but couldn’t because he was afraid the guard would beat him viciously also, leaving the main character unable to help his father or himself. In addition, the indifference Wiesel uses to characterize his characters, mainly in Night, shows how his characters allowed the near destruction of the Jewish population because they could not interfere with such brutality since their was a strong factor of fear that took over them. Furthermore, Wiesel’s action allow him to show defiance against indifference. As Wiesel said about indifference, “We tell the tale of the Holocaust to save the world from indifference” (qtd. in Estess 8). “Storytelling is Wiesel’s mode of inquiring into the nature of things” (qtd. in Estess 9). One final point that Estess talks about is that Wiesel’s books do a good job of challenging the reader, “a challenge to allow his own perspectives to be interrogated and his horizon of understanding to be altered and expanded.” (qtd. in Estess 9). This means that readers must accept that, during reading one of Wiesel’s work’s, their perspectives might be challenged and that they have to be willing to change or accept the perspective given. For example, in Wiesel’s book And the Sea is Never Full, Wiesel often question’s God and in his faith in him. This faith is more directly “attacked” in Night where the main character asks why God won’t save him and thus concluding God died on the cross in the camps. Such deep perspectives definitely challenge a reader’s perspective and they must be willing to accept it.

In Wiesel’s most well known book, Night, Wiesel take readers through a terrifying journey of what he went through the camps and the many struggles that he had to overcome through this journey. All detainees were stripped of their belongings and had to give their whole life away in the Holocaust camps. Through the main character, Wiesel shows how his belief in God vastly changed through his experiences in the camps. In the beginning of the book, the main character wanted to learn the Kabbalah and was devoted in praying to god everyday. The main character and the priest of his town would read the Zohar over and over again “to discover within the very essence of divinity” (Wiesel 23). But after the forcible departure to the Holocaust camps, the narrator finds that his beliefs change greatly: “For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal, and the terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?” (Wiesel 51). Another important aspect of Night is that Wiesel doesn’t leave bits and pieces out of his experience in the camps. Wiesel, in detail, goes through the daily experiences while being a prisoner in the camp with strong emotional descriptions like “The idea of dying, of ceasing to be, began to fascinate me. To no longer exist. To no longer feel the excruciating pain in my foot. To no longer feel anything, neither fatigue nor cold, nothing. To break rank, to myself slide to the side of the road…”(Wiesel 104). He later shifts to descriptions of torture and greed: “The volunteers undressed him and eagerly shared his garments. Then, two “gravediggers” grabbed him by the head and feet and threw him from the wagon, like a sack of flour” (Wiesel 117). Such descriptions and handful of others give readers a more first-handed experience, since Wiesel wrote the book from his experiences, rather than creating a truly fictionalized version of the Holocaust. When considering statements such as those above, readers can make connections to when they themselves have lost loved ones.

Wiesel’s books have set him apart as one of the greatest modern humanitarian writers, especially among writers about the Holocaust. His usage of different styles of writing makes his novels special in the sense that readers will finish reading a book and take something valuable from it. In addition, works like Night and Dawn take readers through what Wiesel went through in his lifetime and readers get a good sense of what Wiesel truly meant by writing a book, of his commitment to both art and the truth. Strategies in writing such as questioning self-identity and masking characters guide readers through Wiesel’s perspective in his beliefs about God and about himself as a person.

Night and Reflections on Human Suffering

When I realize how far the world has come in the decades of the past, I marvel at man’s ability to efficiently collaborate and make good things come out of teamwork, even through the barriers of the varying cultures in the world, including different languages, governments, and the great distances that lie between our countries. Together, our world has accomplished incredible tasks—from organizing the Olympic Games to our willingness to help after tragedy strikes.

Though much has been achieved, there have been events in history that have deeply dehumanized the human soul itself. Events such as the Holocaust have torn apart a nation, replacing German nationalism with a sick, brainwashed version of Adolf Hitler’s belief system that those who do not classify as the “master race” should be purged without a second thought. When one sees through the eyes of the Holocaust victims, we are able to take a small glimpse at the unspeakable horrors and suffering of innocent people, such as concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel. In his book Night, Wiesel writes, “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.” We, as human beings, have the inherent, moral obligation to stand up to suffering.

Social injustices naturally are prevalent due to the wide variety of cultures and living standards in the world. Simply listening to the news, one could easily find themselves bombarded with the cries for help. It is common for a person to turn off the television when a problem tugs at their heartstrings. Why do we turn a blind eye to those who need a hand? No doubt, if we were in that position, we would request help immediately. Why don’t we care enough to actually help others?

The answer lies in the selfish nature of mankind itself. Selfishness is the root of countless problems. Key factors play in the dismissal of helping others. Fear is a factor. People want to avoid the strenuous effort necessary to make his or her point. The trait of assertiveness lacks in countless people. We characteristically do not like conflict. Most of us would rather avoid conflict than stand up for others.

During the time of the Holocaust, the authority of the Nazi leaders and soldiers was intimidating. One wrong word could land a person in jail—or killed. Remembering the trip to the concentration camp, Wiesel recalled, “I was afraid. Afraid of the blows. That is why I remained deaf to his cries…So afraid was I to incur the wrath of the S.S.” When an average person is given the “upper hand” in a situation, the natural response is to take advantage of it, even if it hurts others. Nazi leaders pledged their loyalty to their country, yet they allowed their own people to perish at their feet.

Why should we stand up for others? People need to stand up for what they believe in. When they remain passive to the problem, they ignore what needs to be helped. There was a group, informally called the rescuers, that helped Jews and other victims escape their concentration camp-bound fate. Rescuers were “…ordinary people who became extraordinary people because they acted in accordance with their own belief systems while living in an immoral society” (Rescuers). These people joined together from every walk of life, peasant to prince, through the belief that these victims were simply human beings. They saved hundreds of lives. Rescuers rescued others because some were “motivated by a sense of morality,” or they were adamantly opposed to the ideas of the Nazi society. Some children “followed in their parents’ footsteps” and became rescuers—a prime example of the ripple effect (Rescuers). One person can change the world.

While we can no longer stand up to harsh Nazi leaders, a prevalent number of social injustices exist in the world today. The belittling of others is one example. Walking through a high school, one would assume that it is full of people of all different races, shapes, sizes, and personalities. With this variety of people comes the idea that everyone has incomparable intellectual and social abilities. We are taught not to judge others based on opinions, yet most people would agree that this is one of the most common feelings in a high school: judgment of others. Why do people judge others so harshly without first evaluating themselves? The Holy Bible states, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (English Standard Version, John 7:24). You should not judge someone without first spending a day in the other person’s shoes.

Staying silent about injustices is not right: it is similar to the inequity of the victim’s aggressor. In the conclusion of his book’s preface, Wiesel writes, “Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow.”

A Literary Analysis of Night

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. (Wiesel)” In the novel, Night, Elie Wiesel narrates his horrific experience as a young Jewish boy during the holocaust in which he witnessed some of the eleven million deaths that took place as a result of Adolf Hitler’s pursuit of power. At the age of twelve, Eliezer and his family were transported and moved through numerous concentration camps in which he witnessed the absolute worst forms torture, abuse, and inhumane treatment. This experience had a tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual effect on Eliezer and had an obvious influence on the tone in which he wrote the book. In order to give the reader a realistic experience, Wiesel uses aggressive diction, gruesome imagery and figurative language to reinforce Eliezer’s loss of faith and identity.

Wiesel’s aggressive diction gives the reader a clear picture of his experience in the concentration camp, and offers an explanation of why Eliezer, a devout jew, begins doubt lose faith in God. He uses the words “murder” and “consumed” to describe how he feels about his faith being tested. Both of these words carry heavy connotations and further support Eliezer’s suggestion that his faith has been devoured by the “flames” of the Holocaust. He continues to say that his “dreams” turned “to ashes,” suggesting that he no longer has anything to live for. His constant repetition of the phrase “Never shall I forget” continuously engrains the horrors of the Holocaust into the reader’s mind. Wiesel also uses more forceful words such as “commanded” rather than milder words such as “asked” or “requested” to dictate to the reader the treatment that they received. These words point to the power of The Bible for the Jews, and suggest that they are only continuing their Jewish traditions out of obligation rather than out of desire to practice their faith. Strangely, Wiesel also uses the word “Hellish” to describe the sun and the effects that it has on his health and hydration. This use of tone and diction help to give the reader a firsthand perspective on Eliezer’s experiences, and allow them to better understand the challenges he underwent.

The use of a solemn tone and varying literary devices is an effective method by Wiesel to portray the emotions, or lack there of, to the reader. Dr. Yi Chan of Stanford University suggests that Wiesel reflected on the most depressing parts of the Holocaust, and effectively puts the reader in a depressed state of mind. Although the majority of the text was very full of emotion, there were times in which Wiesel displayed no emotion at all; as if the life had been sucked out of him. For example, “On the seventh day of Passover, the curtain finally rose: the Germans arrested the leaders of the Jewish community. From that moment on, everything happened very quickly. The race toward death had begun” (10). In this quote, the text suggest that Wiesel has no care for his life anymore, he has accept his fate. In the previous quote, one can also find a metaphor, “the curtain finally rose.” This represents the unveiling of the German’s actions that had been relatively hidden for sometime.

Another example of a metaphor is when Eliezer sat hopelessly in the concentration camp, speaking to himself, “As Eliezer says himself, “The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls” (88). Night is thus a metaphor for the way the soul was submerged in suffering and hopelessness.The reader can also find personification in the text, one time being when Wiesel describes the way the children when looked upon entering the crematorium: “Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky” (34). The inhuman characteristics of the bodies turning to smoke give the reader a gruesome image that is bound to have an emotional effect. The use of literary devices in the text adds an additional element to Wiesel’s memoir, and works as an effective support to the diction and imagery.

Although Wiesel uses tone as a depressant for the majority of the novel, he does also cleverly use it throughout the story to express the strength of his relationship with his father even in the face of hardship. The narrator’s love for his father was, at times, the only reason he had to keep up the constant struggle to live, “The idea of dying, of ceasing to be, began to fascinate me. To no longer exist. To no longer feel the excruciating pain of my foot” (86). In this quote, Wiesel is setting up a tone of surrender, of hopelessness. The text suggest that Eliezer has given in, and is content with death. However, as the sequence progresses, he goes on to write, “My father’s presence was the only thing that stopped me. He was running next to me, out of breath, out of strength, desperate” (86). Even when death seemed like an attractive option, Eliezer’s thoughts of his father kept him pushing through his hardships. Tone is used in the text in order to convey a certain mood to the reader that would not be attained without it.

Wiesel uses imagery in order to reach the reader beyond one’s normal perspective, and reach into the imaginative side of the reader’s mind. According to Sean M. Conrey of the Purdue Owl, an author “uses a word or phrase to stimulate one’s memory of those senses. These memories can be positive or negative and will contribute to the mood of the story”. This can be found throughout the novel, one time being when Eliezer crawls out out his bed to look in the mirror, only to find a horrific sight, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me” (109). This is the final line of the book, and leaves the reader with the everlasting image of Eliezer’s broken body as he comes to the realization of what he has gone through. Another time in which Wiesel depicts a memorable image to the reader is when he stands in the concentration camp, asking himself, “Where is God now?”, only to answer himself, “Where is HE? Here He is- He is hanging here on the gallows….” (62) Eliezer refers to the boy who had been hung for all to see as God’s work, further stating that he has lost all faith in God. One can clearly imagine a young defeated corpse, innocent written on his face. This use of imagery greatly effects the reader, and they ways in which one interprets the novel.

The most important thing to Eliezer is his Jewish faith; however, he loses all trust in God after witnessing the horrific Holocaust. In turn, Eliezer is dripped of his identity. Wiezel is able to effectively relay this idea to the reader through the text. He does this by using various literary devices, and an overly aggressive diction. This portrayal of the Holocaust offers a different point of view to the reader, as it shows much more than just the physical effects. The reader now has clearer understanding of what the Jews had to truly endure during this genocide.

After reflecting on the pessimistic consequences of this crude and selfish murder, a change in conscience comes over Raskolnikov. Once he understands the reality of the matter, he suffers a breakdown, “Surely it isn’t beginning already! Surely it isn’t my punishment coming upon me? It is! (103)”. Though he commits a very serious crime, Raskolnikov still refuses to believe it actually happened. Referring to his theory on man, in which the extraordinary man is “allowed” to break the law, he should be permitted to break the law without question, since he connects with the mentality possessed by the extraordinary man. Sonya’s delicate persona helps prove to Raskolnikov that he doesn’t fully qualify for part of the extraordinary man. That small fragment in him consisting of all the goodness purity, love and forgiveness associated with Sonya still shines through to her. He realized the pain and suffering he must go through, but cannot allow the law to overcome his intelligence. Not accepting Sonya’s identity, his mind and body lead him to carry the burden of guilt. Mentally, he could not surrender to the just legalities that governed the town, and physically he could not surrender to its cruelty.

Raskolnikov’s overbearing resistance to authority leads him away from the path of truth and, because of this ignorance to reality, he refuses to admit his crime. Confused between right and wrong, he experiences an internal battle, bringing him into a mental dispute, Raskolnikov had to tell Sonia who had killed Lizaveta. He knew the terrible suffering it would be to him and, as it were, brushed away the thought of it. (183)” Sonya offers him more than he could ever imagine, all because of her unconditional submission to his needs. Sonya’s innocence and sensitivity only makes Raskolnikov more attracted and obedient to her. Leading him onto the right path of truth and helping him to realize his crime: ”I did not bow down to you, Sonia, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity,” he said wildly and walked away to the window. (351)” Only when Sonya embodies his emotions and his “ordinary” side can he actually regain his strength and confidence. Once he embraces on the idea that his life would not be complete without her, he listens to her advice to proclaim his unethical actions to the town.

The transition from intellectual, disoriented and then to focused thought, along with the imprisonment in Siberia, deteriorates his mind, creating more guilt that he will eternally suffer from. This allows Raskolnikov to rebuild his ideals from the start, “You must fulfill the demands of justice. I know that you don’t believe it, but indeed, life will bring you through. You will live it down in time. What you need now is fresh air, fresh air, fresh air! (378)” Only by nurturing Sonya does he return to a normal state of mind. The emotional awakening he goes through brings him closer to the qualities possessed by the ordinary man. The experience and conviction behind him generates an even greater intelligence for Raskolnikov and stops him from going back to his time of pain. Without this discovery, brought about mostly by Sonya, he would be condemned to a life full of misery and regret; the life of a man caught between the ordinary and extraordinary man. Analyzing his actions helps bring a closure to the agony and frustration previously existing in Raskolnikov’s mind.

The Changing Nature of the Relationship Between Elie and His Father in Night

In the novel ‘Night’, it is clear to see there is a changing relationship between Elie and his father. On first impression, ‘he called out to me and I had not answered’, seems to indicate that the relationship has ceased. However, the change in the nature of their relationship is far more complex than it appears. This complexity is shown from the days before the arrival of the Nazis, to the initial experiences in the camp, to the final moments they share together. Throughout this novel we see there is an ever-changing and developing relationship between Elie and his father.At the start of the text, Elie’s father is very distant from his family and seems to be ‘more involved with the welfare of others that with that of his own kin.’ At this stage of the story Elie and his father’s relationship is very distant and disconnected. This is further underlined by his father’s lack of interest in Elie’s faith – ‘he wanted to drive the idea of studying kabbalah from my mind’ – causing Elie to seek fatherly guidance and support from Moishe the Beadle. Their relationship begins to change when the Nazi’s first arrive in town, as Elie’s father starts to show emotion towards Elie, their relationship begins to draw closer: ‘My father was crying. It was the first time I saw him cry. I had never thought it possible.’ Elie is very shocked to see his father weeping as he had never seen his father express his emotions before. This moment proves to Elie that his father is human. Their relationship further develops when Elie and his father are separated from his mother and sister: ‘I already felt my father’s hand press against mine: we were alone’. Elie’s father begins to show more emotion and starts to take on a fatherly role as he looks out for Elie to ensure his survival, and begins to show concern for Elie’s safety and wellbeing: ‘What a shame you didn’t go with your mother, I saw many children your age go with their mothers.’ Throughout their initial encounters in the camp, Elie’s father is slowly becoming more father-like and showing the wisdom and guidance that was once used towards the community towards Elie. Through the tougher times they begin to rely on one another, and realise they have to stick together to ensure their survival. Elie begins to take risks on his own life to ensure his father’s survival, rather than worry about his own wellbeing: ‘Being in the infirmary was not bad at all; we were entitled to good bread, a thicker soup… From time to time I was able to send my father a piece of bread’. This shows that even though Elie is better off, he is still looking out for his father and putting himself at risk at the chance that if he got caught feeding his father, he could be killed, and yet he does this to make sure his father survives. Elie starts to take on more of the fatherly role as his father gets weaker and depends on Elie even more. Their bond is growing as the experiences they’re going through get harsher.As Elie’s father gets weaker, Elie becomes frustrated and feels that his father is weighing him down, that he is a dead weight: ‘My father’s presence was the only thing that stopped me. He was next to me out of breath, out of strength, desperate.’ Although Elie is angry with his father for holding him back, he doesn’t desert him, and continues to stick by him as he doesn’t want to be separated from him: ‘I was thinking not about death, I did not want to be separated from my father.’ As they are running away from the Russians through the snow, Elie sees sons abandoning their fathers, and realises how easy it would be to just leave him behind and free himself from the burden of his father, but he still doesn’t leave him. He still has great concern for his father’s survival. Elie starts to realise that it’s every man for himself, and he can’t worry about his father anymore: ‘That is when I remembered I had a father. I had followed the mob, not taking care of him. I knew he was running out of strength, close to death and yet I abandoned him’. He becomes so frustrated with having to look after his father, and be the father figure towards him, that he can’t control his anger, and starts to wish his father was dead: ‘A thought crept into my mind, if only I didn’t find him, if only I was relieved of this responsibility. I could use all my strength to take care of only myself.’ Instantly Elie begins to feel guilty for having such thoughts: ‘instantly I felt ashamed, ashamed of myself forever,’ he says, and realises he can’t leave his father in such a state, and it is his responsibility to look after him. ‘For a ration of bread I was able to exchange a cot to be next to my father’, he says. At this stage their relationship is slowly drifting apart, the love for one another is still there, but hate and frustration soon overcomes this. Elie can’t stand it anymore, no matter how much Elie does for his father, he still wants to die; he has given up and no longer wants to live. ‘I can’t anymore, it’s over,’ he says, ‘I shall die right here.’ During their last moments together, when presented with the opportunity to save his father from beatings from the Kapos, Elie sits back and does nothing. He is too afraid to take action, as he could be the next one to be beaten: ‘I was afraid, my body was afraid of another blow, this time to my head’. When Elie’s father dies, Elie feels guilty as ‘his last word had been my name. He called out to me and I had not answered’. But soon the feeling of guilt passes and he feels relief, ‘free at last!’It is shown throughout the text that there is an ever changing nature of the relationship between Elie and his father; from the days before the arrival of the Nazis, to the initial experiences in the camp, to the final moments they share together. We can see the different stages of their relationship and how it develops, as well as how the situation they’re in reflects their relationship and how close they become. It is a complex situation that undoubtedly resonated with Elie throughout the rest of his life.

NIght and the Problem of Evil

In his first and most famous work, Night, Elie Wiesel relives his experience in the concentration camps of the Nazi regime during World War II. Wiesel, who was born and raised a devout Jew and excelled at Talmudic and spiritual studies, recounts his loss of freedom, innocence, family, and finally faith. One of the accomplishments of Night as a human document is that it not only shows the evils of the oppressors in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, but what evil can do to man. Wiesel saw good men transformed through cruelty into “beasts of prey unleashed” (101).The most important theme in the book is how evil transforms and de-forms man. While the horrors of the Nazi regime are described in Night, it is the evil wrought by fellow Jews and victims of the Nazis that takes a central place in this work. From the beginning of his time at Auschwitz, Wiesel experiences the worst abuse from his fellow inmates. At the first barracks Wiesel stayed in, the veteran inmates were waiting to beat the newcomers indiscriminately with sticks (35). This behavior, constituting not only a lack of compassion but outright anger and violence towards fellow humans, appears continually throughout Night. After only a few days at the work camp in Buna, Wiesel himself starts to take on this behavior. The dentist who was going to remove Wiesel’s gold crown was arrested for taking some gold for himself, and was going to be hanged. Wiesel not only felt no pity or remorse for the dentist, he was pleased. In the concentration camp, there was not room to worry about other people or abstract notions like compassion; all that existed was your own life and your own empty stomach (51-52).As the tide of war turned against the Nazis, the prisoners in the concentration camps were subjected to more horrors and suffering. As allied troops moved towards Buna, the prisoners were forced to evacuate, but not before cleaning the barracks: “For the liberating army. Let them know that here lived men and not pigs.” (84) This distinction between men and animals disappears, though, when Wiesel describes the scene in which civilians toss bread crumbs into one of the cattle cars transporting prisoners to the next concentration camp. The prisoners, so starved for food, fall on each other violently and beat each other for little crumbs of sustenance. Wiesel actually witnesses a son strangle his own father for a crust of bread (101). At this point in the book, it is clear that whatever distinguishes us from animals, and men from pigs, has disappeared. The experience in the concentration camps has had the effect of systematically stripping the prisoners of what made them human: their individuality, their compassion, and their remorse. What was left was just the body, more specifically the empty stomach, and the drive to protect the pathetic life left to it.For Wiesel, an important aspect of the evil experienced seemed to be man’s unwillingness to accept it, or even recognize it for what it is. Before the native Jews of Sighet had begun to be persecuted, all foreign born Jews were forced to leave. Moishe the Beadle returned from a near death experience at the hands of the Nazis, and sought to share his knowledge of their evil with his fellow Jews. It was not easy for the people of Sighet, still living their ordinary lives, to conceptualize of the evil Moishe the Beadle proclaimed, and being that he had been poor and of a lower class it was much simpler for him to be dismissed as a madman (6-7). Once the fascist regime had taken over in Transylvania and the Jews had been forced into ghettos there were still those who did not want to believe the worst was possible: “As far as I’m concerned, this whole business is a big farce…They just want to steal our valuables and jewelry” (21).It was perhaps not until the people of Sighet were herded onto transports that some started to be overcome with their doubt that everything might not be okay. Mrs. Schächter, an older woman on the transport, started to scream, “Jews, listen to me, I see a fire! I see flames, huge flames!” At first the people packed into the cattle car felt pity for her, but as her screaming became more manic, so did the other passengers’ need to silence her. In their desire to quiet her, and perhaps to quiet the doubt in themselves, the normally peaceful people who would have been her friends and neighbors from Sighet struck her and tied her up (25-26). Once the cattle car emptied its cargo of people at Birkenau, the reality of the evil that the people of Sighet had not wanted to accept finally set upon them. One inmate yelled at the arriving Jews: “You should have hanged yourselves rather than come here. Didn’t you know what was in store for you here in Auschwitz? You didn’t know? In 1944?” (30) Evil often remains a mystery because we are too frightened to explore its real possibilities.The question of why evil and suffering exist is an important one for any person faced with the reality of evil. In Night, this is a difficult question for a devout Jews to answer. Being a very religious person, one has to reconcile the reality of what is happening with the type of God one believes in. Some at Auschwitz thought that perhaps they were being punished for sins of the Jewish people. Others thought “God is testing us. He wants to see whether we are capable of overcoming our base instincts, of killing the Satan within ourselves” (45). Wiesel, on the other hand, was angered by what he saw as God’s silence: “Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?”(33) Wiesel likens himself to the biblical character Job. Job was an innocent and righteous man who still suffered, despite leading a life devoted to God. He challenged the assumption that suffering was punishment for sins, since he had committed none. Job is able to find peace though the realization that although there may be no explanation for suffering, God is present in Job’s suffering just as he is in Job’s blessings. Through this reaffirmed faith in God’s presence in his life, Job is able to find peace with his pain. For Wiesel, though, even the story of Job does not bring peace. Wiesel found God to be completely absent from Auschwitz. It does not appear to be until after writing Night that Wiesel gains some sort of peace with what has happened. Wiesel, as he states in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, has tried to make something out of the life he was lucky enough to keep through the concentration camps. As Wiesel said, “I have tried to keep memory alive… We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim” (118). It seems that for Wiesel, the evil he experienced had at least one positive result: that it might prevent such evil from reoccurring. This idea of suffering as a renewing or teaching experience is common in latter Jewish thought and Christianity.Night is a deeply personal look at the suffering Wiesel went through without any filters. Wiesel does not at any point attempt to justify of offer excuses for the evil propagated by the Nazis or by the Jews themselves in the concentration camps. He focuses instead on offering a brutally honest look at what happens to men when they are pushed to their limits and the evil we are capable of. Our humanity is something that we can often take for granted, but in Night Wiesel shows how even that can be stripped from us. The book is stylistically simple, short, and easy to read, but the truths found in it are much harder to grasp. As noted earlier, evil is something we are at times hesitant to confront, but the purpose of this work is to force us to do just that. This is why Wiesel does not try to paint himself or anyone else in the book as more heroic than they were, because only the whole truth is revealing. By sharing the tale of his journey into “the Kingdom of Night”, in all of its power, Wiesel cautions mankind against letting such a thing happen, and thus we are all able to find some meaning in the tragedy of the Holocaust.

The Gospel According to Mark and Night: Would St. Mark Call Night a ‘Religious Book’?

Wiesel’s Novella, Night, can be labeled a ‘religious book’ when looked at in light of the unquestionably religious text, the “Gospel According to Mark” from the “New Testament” of Christianity’s Holy Bible. This proves to be the case if one looks at the central parallels which may be drawn between the two works. A comparable narrative framework, consistent use of light and dark images (indicating ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ respectively), and the ongoing theme of questioning faith serve as these central similarities. However, the works do part company when the reader seeks to answer those questions of faith which the characters of both works raise. The narrative frameworks of the two texts are quite similar. Both are biographies (Night in first person, the “Gospel” in third person) of a strong and admirable individual’s life (or aspect of his life) told in the form of a story. Both of these individuals, Wiesel and Jesus, experience an inversion of occupation within their lives. Wiesel, a “student” at home, says that he is a “farmer” when he is brought to the concentration camp in order to seem to the SS officer who is questioning him that he will be a good worker (Wiesel 29). Likewise, Jesus, who by birthright was a carpenter, chooses to lead his life as a teacher and healer. The oddity of this inversion is pointed out by the people of Jesus’ “hometown”, they ask “is not this [Jesus] the carpenter?” (Mark 6.3). Their question implies the absurdity of his teaching the word of God and healing when he is ‘supposed’ to be a carpenter. In addition, in both texts, the narrator’s perspective is limited. Mark’s limitation is revealed by the other three gospels, that serve as a part of the canon of the “New Testament,” in that his testimony is not entirely consistent with theirs. This is shown most explicitly in the difference between his gospel and John’s gospel; “Mark’s Jesus will neither confirm nor deny that he is the long-awaited king… [but] repeatedly throughout John’s gospel, Jesus declares himself to be the means of salvation” (Oxtoby 211). Mark does not narrate the definitive version (or perspective) of Jesus’ life. Wiesel’s limitation is admitted by himself. He is a prisoner, and so he does not know what is going on in the greater world, or even who is winning the war. Another likeness within the narratives is the active expression there being a natural kinship among those who are human (this excludes both Jesus, who is divine, and the Nazis, who are demons). Wiesel describes the first relief he has at the concentration camp as being the words prison-block leader when he says, “let there be comradeship among you. We are all brothers… Help one another” (Wiesel 38). Wiesel also regularly makes use of the word “we” throughout his novella in order to reinforce this sentiment. Mark postulates the same idea. He says that Jesus has “compassion” for the people gathered “because they [are] like sheep without a shepherd” (6.34). The use of this metaphor indicates that all people are the same in Jesus’ eyes as all sheep are the same in humans’ eyes. They are the same because they are all “brothers and sisters,” they are all humans (Mark 10.30). The resemblance of Wiesel’s narration to Mark’s causes there to be similar tones to the works as wholes and this causes the reader ‘hear’ the works in similar ways. In this case, the fact that the “Gospel” is a religious piece, and is meant to be taken as such by its readers, implies that Wiesel’s piece would also be ‘heard’ and understood similarly by its readers. There are many images in both manuscripts of light and dark. These images indicate an underlying sense of there existing good (light) and dark (evil) from the narrators’ perspectives. Mark cites both the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus himself, as verbally expressing light / dark images to illustrate the good / bad distinction. A quote from Isaiah opens the “Gospel,” saying God’s “messenger [Jesus]” will be sent “ahead of you,” his will be the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (Mark 1.2-3). The “wilderness” represents darkness and the lack of God, while the “voice” represents the sound that will bring people out of the wilderness and into the clearing where the light of God shines. Jesus too, in the ‘lamp parable,’ reveals this distinction. He says “there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; not is anything secret, except to come to light” (Mark 4.21). Again, the light represents the truth and knowledge and goodness of God. God’s “light” will reveal all. In Night, the distinction is drawn, but in a less obvious way. The last moments which the Jews of Wiesel’s city have in their own place is accompanied by “a blazing sun” (14). The light which such a sun gives off represents the goodness of being in one’s home. “A glimmer of light” also brings “joy” later in the book because the living (including Wiesel and his father) are allowed to throw the dead off of the train on which they are being transported. In contrast to this, it is “pitch dark” when most of Wiesel’s fellow prisoners are “dying and dead” including his friend, the violin player, Juliek. The darkness represents the pure evil which brought about that situation. The title of the book, Night, also falls in this vein. The book as a whole is a horrifying tale — dark and evil. The evil, illustrated by the images darkness in the pieces, is also illustrated by the presence of explicit, physical, non-human ‘bad guys’ in the pieces. Along the same lines, the good, illustrated by the images of light in the pieces, is also illustrated by the presence of the main character as a model of righteous behavior in the pieces. The demons, or “unclean spirits” of the “Gospel” are equivalent to the Nazis in Night. The unclean spirit, “Legion,” enters a herd of “swine” and causes the swine to “rush down” and be “drowned in the sea” (Mark 5.8-5.13). In the same way that an unclean spirit causes the swine act wildly, an unclean spirit also makes a boy act wildly; it causes him to “convulse” and “foam at the mouth” (Mark 9.20). Nazis are shown in a remarkably similar ‘wild’ manner when Wiesel first reaches the concentration camp. They leap up in “black trousers” onto the wagon with “electric torches and truncheons… and [they] begin strike out to the right and left” (Wiesel 26). The advice of how to get rid of these ‘bad guys’ is also alike. Jesus says “all things [including the casting out of unclean spirits] may be done for the one who believes” (Mark 9.23) The “older ones,” faced with the Nazis, advise their children, “you must never lose faith, even when the sword hangs over your head” (Wiesel 29). In contrast to these demons, the main characters of the works serve as models of what is considered to be righteous behavior in the works. Certain basic assertions of what is righteous are the same in both texts. One in particular is primary in both texts. This one is put forth concisely when Jesus says “you know the commandment: ‘Honor your father and mother'” (Mark 10.19). Jesus spends his whole life actively honoring his father, who is God, by serving him and spreading his word, and God is “well pleased” by him (Mark 1.11). Wiesel also spends much of the time in the book honoring his father. He eats on Yom Kippur “mainly to please his father, who had forbidden [him] to do so” (66). And then, at one point, near the end of the story, Wiesel prays to God to give him the strength to never betray his father (87). In addition, the novella, Night, itself is dedicated to the “memory of [Wiesel’s] parents.” He even wrote the book in order to honor them. The parallels drawn between the “Gospel” and Night concerning the good / light and the evil / dark are extremely important to the reader’s understanding of the works. Since they both use these types of images consistently, it puts the reader in a position to see the works as professing a clear delineation between that which is good (or close to God) and that which is evil (or lacking God). The feeling which readers come away from the two works with are likely to be similar due to this similar duality within the content. The theme of faith is played out in both texts through the use of predictions which are seen by others (including the reader) to be valid proof of power of the predictor if they are fulfilled. Jesus predicts the betrayal of Judas and then of Peter. “One of you will betray me who is eating with me” says Jesus, predicting Judas’ betrayal of him (Mark 14.17). It is fulfilled when “the betrayer [Judas] gives them [the men who came to arrest Jesus] a sign, saying ‘the one I will kiss is the man [Jesus]; arrest him'” (Mark 14.44). All of Jesus’ disciples (and the reader) see that Jesus’ prediction came true when they see him arrested at the sign of the disciple Judas. More privately, Jesus tells Peter “before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times” (14.30). This proves to be true, Peter denies that he knows Jesus three times, then the “cock crows for a second time,” and Peter, remembering Jesus’ accurate predication, “breaks down and weeps” (14.72). He is touched and pained by the lack of faith which he demonstrated by denying Jesus and which was fully restored by his true prediction. The other prediction which Jesus makes, and which proves to be true is on a larger scale. He says that he will be “betrayed into human hands and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again” (9.31). The end of Mark actualizes this prediction. A man sitting beside Jesus’ tomb says “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified… has been raised” (16.6). The reader is supposed to have faith in God after reading of these flawless predictions. Night displays a comparable string of predictions. At the beginning of the story, “Moshe the Beadle” comes back from his encounter with Nazis, saying that he came back to “tell the story of his death… to warn” the others (including Wiesel’s family) of their approaching fate (Wiesel 5). This prediction unravels itself as being the whole of the story. Moshe warned that the Nazis were going to try to exterminate the Jews. Then, toward the end of the book, Wiesel’s “neighbor” in the hospital ‘knows’ that Hitler “will annihilate all the Jews” because he has “more faith in Hitler than in anyone else” (76-7). This is the first case of those so far listed where the prediction doesn’t come true. Hitler does not prove to be a “prophet” (Wiesel 77). This is where the two texts part company. Where the reader of the “Gospel” is supposed to come away with a faith in God, as the central characters do, the reader of Night is given no such clear message. The question left to the reader of Night is whether one should maintain a faith in God, or anyone else, in light of the horrors of the Holocaust. Night can be labeled a ‘religious book’ if one compares it to the “Gospel According to Mark” because the reader is brought to view the world from many of the same angles. However, though both raise the central question of faith, only the “Gospel” ventures to answer that question for its reader.

The Motivation in Night

Motivation is the condition of providing something as need, belief, or desire that induces a character to act. In the historical fiction Night, by Elie Wiesel, action and setting contribute significantly to the motivation of the central protagonist, Elie. The overall effect of motivation presents the characters as retrogressing to savage-like behaviors. Motivation undoubtedly portrays a vital role in Elie’s demeanor. Many times, actions of others influence the aspirations of the main character. One day in the story, the Kapo (head of prison block) Idek flies into his usual fanatical rage and beats Elie. A young Aryan French girl comforts him in German. Years later, Elie meets the woman in Paris. She reveals that she is Jewish and risked her life, trusting Elie by speaking to him in German. The girl’s words motivated and encouraged Elie to be determined and not give up. Elie, though physically beaten, is emotionally boosted by this. Another time, prisoners are so crowded into barracks that people are piled upon each other. Elie finds himself lying on top of Juliek, a Polish violinist he knew in Buna. Juliek’s soulful playing of Beethoven through the night elevates hope and soothes the audience of exhausted and dying men. Evidently, these actions display the causes to motivation of Elie. Setting also affects the inclination of the central figure. At Auschwitz conditions are better and the fellow captives are not as brutal. The prisoners are even allowed to sleep in beds. Because of the more humane treatment, Elie and the residents of Auschwitz are more spirited. But at his stay in Birkenau, Elie is separated from his mother and sister, sees babies horrifically tossed into fires, comes close to death in the crematories, and is pummeled by guards. Dwelling in Birkenau, Elie loses hope and motivation but regains some of it at Auschwitz. On the last march to Gleiwitz, Elie’s father becomes weak, and catches a deadly case of dysentry. So while in Gleiwitz, Elie, is demoralized. Gleiwitz influences the motivation by reducing it. Either by diminishing or heightening motivation, the setting is important in determining the amount of it. The total outcome of motivation leads Elie and furthermore the other characters to de-humanize, desiring only for food and water. Elie comes to not even caring for his father. The harshness of camp life weakens Elie’s filial devotion, which causes him to feel shame and guilt. He becomes concerned primarily with feeding himself, an animal-like behavior, and this instinct of self-preservation often outweighs concern for his fater. Later while the captives are transporting to Buchenwald, German workmen throw pieces of bread into one of the prison cars for entertainment. The prisoners becoume barbaric, trying for the scarce amount of nourishment. One man desperately hungry, kills his own father for a piece of bread. The prisoners are transformed into a pack of savage wolves, fighting each other for survival. The motivation to satisfy their hungers reduces them to acting like mere beasts. Notably, setting and action contributes greatly to the motivation of the central character, Elie. The motivation causes Elie to desire more for food, and succumb human traits as revenge and generosity to animal-like behaviors. The horror of the holocaust that allowed people like Elie to be persecuted, should never be permitted to transpire again.

Keeping Hope Alive: Comparing Perspectives in ‘Night’ and ‘Survivors Club’

Martin Luther King once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope,” He is known for being a beacon of hope when times seemed hopeless. Survivors Club explores themes of keeping hope alive when it seemed like it was impossible, in a memoir about the Holocaust’s best hiders. What happens, however, when that hope is lost for good? Night contrasts that optimistic tone and exposes a boy’s lost battle with hope. The tone of Survivors Club and Night is different because one author has a pessimistic perspective while the other has a more optimistic outlook, which is largely dependant on having hope or a lack thereof.

Family gives people a sense of strength to keep on living and being separated from them can take away from one’s will to live. Having no desire to continue to live on makes for a very pessimistic tone, as Elie did when he thought his father had died from exhaustion when they were at the very end of their journey to a new camp in a convoy of cars in Night. Elie wonders what it would be like if he were actually dead as a lot of other people were, and he calls out to him but there is no response. Elie realizes in that moment that, without his father, “there was no longer any reason to live, any reason to fight,” (Wiesel, 99). They had gone the whole way surviving with the bare minimum, little food, shelter, protection, and against all odds. Elie is infuriated with the thought of his father having died when it was so close to the war being over. It is especially infuriating because Elie had had thoughts of ending his life rather than enduring the painful torture of being a prisoner many times, but had thought against it, essentially, because of his family and the need to survive not for himself, but for them. Ending his life and leaving his family to fight alone would’ve been selfish. However now, that his father was presumably gone, who had he had left to fight for? When there is no incentive to stay alive, he immediately gives up hope. It was not a rarity have suicidal thoughts in a concentration camp and separated from family, as Mamishu did in Survivors Club when she was ready to die upon receiving the news that her father and older son had been sent to be killed in a chamber. Her youngest son, Michael, concluded that “if she’d had the energy in that instant, she might have leaped against the electric fence and ended her life, as many other prisoners had done….But then Mamishu thought of me. She knew I might not last one week in Auschwitz without her protection….she was determined to keep me safe,” (Bornstein, 154) This determination to keep her son alive forced her out of those thoughts because she knew she still had someone to protect, and her maternal instinct to protect is stronger than the tendency to just give up. Her remaining family was her only motivation to continue living because although she had already lost some family, she treasured Michael even more now because he was the only one she had left, unlike Elie who had lost everyone.

People use religion and faith as a way to explain why miracles happen, and when only tragedies happen, it is easy to lose that faith. For example, as the prisoners are being sorted into who will go to the labor units and who will go to the crematorium, Elie loses his faith on that long wait as he sees innocent children heading straight to the pit of fire, and he claims “never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live,” (Wiesel, 34). During that time of seeing who will get to live and who will have a terrible fate, Elie sees things as a child that corrupt him of his desire to live because they are so grotesque. They “consumed” his faith, he no longer believed in a God that would allow these things to happen, and witnessing senseless violence was the beginning of his journey with losing faith and the novel having a darker undertone. As for Mamishu, whose family had all assumed she died in a camp that burned down, but in reality, she was transferred to another camp and avoided the fire. When she just stumbles upon her son back in their hometown, she “never thought she would hold her child’s hand in hers again. She had prayed-but she had barely believed in God anymore, until this second. She was still a mother. For the first time in a very long while, God had answered one of her prayers,” (Bornstein, 238). For her, family was the only hope to cling onto, and despite the tragedies and losses, she was still united with her remaining family which was enough to reinforce her faith in God. Knowing that God answered her prayers was a sign that hope prevails, which is what makes the optimistic tone of the memoir.

Witnessing people’s acts of kindness can make one hopeful for the future, however, when one sees how inhumanely people treat each other, it is easy to lose faith in humanity. When Elie sees the SS guards toss pieces of bread in the cars full of starved people and basically walking corpses, he ponders how one can be so cruel, and is reminded of an incident later on. The “ship’s passengers amused themselves by throwing coins to the ‘natives,’ who dove to retrieve them. An elegant Parisian lady took great pleasure in this game….[He] implored the lady: ‘Please, don’t throw any more coins!’ ‘Why not?’ said she. ‘I like to give charity,’” (Wiesel, 100). Witnessing someone deliberately treating people like animals and finding amusement in putting desperate, weak people against each other changes something deep inside Elie that cannot be changed back. Once he is exposed to how horrible people can be, he is quick to become more cynical, and reasonably so. When all he sees are examples of people being horrible, it is easy to believe nothing better exists. In Survivors Club, however, it was easy to be a hopeful person because of all the examples of random acts of kindness and the communal efforts to make it as much of a tolerable place as their conditions allowed. From a kind Polish man being generous with his food for the starving Bornstein family (“‘Can you get me three pounds of beef brisket in exchange for this link of gold?’…The man had smiled at my father many times and made it clear that he did not mind working with a Jew. ‘Of course, my friend. You look hungry. I’ll make it four pounds,’” (Bornstein, 113)) to the convent of nuns that took in baby Ruth when her parents could not longer care for her as it was risky (“The Mother Superior was quickly alerted, and the two scooped Ruth right up off that bench and brought her inside the convent,” (Bornstein, 89)). There are several examples of people doing good things simply out of the goodness of their heart and genuinely not expecting anything back. This sets up the tone of the memoir because it shows the positivity Michael had growing up and how people looked out for one another, rather than in Night, where there was a “every man for himself” mindset.

Overall, despite being about the same tragedy, the Holocaust, Survivors Club found a way to shed a positive light on it because it is, after all, a story of survival, while Night is about a boy’s innocence being lost as he witnesses terrible things around him, is separated from family, and loses his faith in God. They have different tones because the authors have a different way they choose to talk about the traumas that happened to them. This change in tone is because Elie only had reasons to lose hope, while Michael found a way to stay hopeful in a hopeless place.

Trauma and Dignity in Night

Upon arrival in Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel and his companions are shocked by unspeakable atrocities, and quickly are reduced to instinct. “We no longer clung to anything. The instincts of self-preservation, of self-defense, of pride, had all deserted us” (36). The lack of humanity shown to the prisoners strips them of the basic roles they once held in civilized society, and forces many to commit unbearable acts in order to survive. The men are torn from the lives they previously led, and no longer work or hold leadership positions; the sense of autonomy they once held over their lives has vanished. The innocent men are shaved, starved, beaten, and treated as “filthy dogs,” all while performing forced labor (85). They witness children being systematically burned alive, and many of their family members are murdered. The physical and psychological trauma of the camps reduces the prisoners’ self-worth. The overwhelming horror of Wiesel’s experience, combined with shame perpetuated by the SS officers, results in a chilling disconnection from his previous self. In Night, Elie Wiesel manages to communicate the nearly ineffable loss of human dignity that arises from the trauma of war and violence.

The Nazis structured the concentration camps in a way that deliberately dehumanized the prisoners and tested their limits of endurance. Bruno Bettleheim, a survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald, wrote extensively about his psychoanalytical observations of the camps. He observed himself, his fellow prisoners, and the SS Officers, and analyzed the different motivations each. The SS officers’ goals included “to break the prisoners as individuals and change them into docile masses…to provide the Gestapo with an experimental laboratory in which to study effective means for breaking civilian resistance, as well as the minimum nutritional, hygienic, and medical requirements needed to keep prisoners alive…”(Bettleheim 49). The Nazis wanted to push the limits of human endurance for their own political means. The calculated nature of the camps is reflected in Wiesel’s account of their arrival, as the prisoners are stripped of their clothing and belongings. The men lose the individual signifiers that demarcate their individuality and their status in society. In the camps, the prisoners are only known by a number tattooed on one arm. Wiesel recalls, “I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name” (42). The stripping of this essential element instills a further feeling of worthlessness in the men, perhaps more than starvation or brutality. Psychologist Judith Hassan, when discussing working with the long-term impact of trauma in Holocaust survivors, wrote that “No name, only a number, deprives a person of a basic human right – to have an identity…Once ‘liberated’, their identity as survivors did not facilitate a sense of belonging or status in the outside world” (Hassan 185). The reduction of one’s identity was psychologically traumatic for the prisoners, in addition to the physical horrors they witnessed. The symbolism of the simple act of removing one’s name reveals the Nazi’s intent to truly erase the lives of the prisoners.

Smaller indignities, in many cases, were more harmful to the prisoners than other punishments. Through observing his fellow prisoners, Bettleheim suggests that “One felt deeper and more violent aggressions against particular SS men who had committed minor vile acts than one felt against those who had acted in a much more terrible fashion” (Bettleheim 66). Men resented verbal abuse or a slap in the face more than serious physical injury; these insults wounded the prisoners deeply. The loss of pride in their lives was one of the Nazi’s goals for the prisoners upon arrival. In Night, Elie’s father asks where the restrooms are located, and the kapo “slapped my father with such force that he fell down and then crawled back on all fours” (39). This lack of decency shocks Elie; it is one of the first moments that begin to take his father’s dignity, and by extension, Elie’s dignity. He is ashamed at his lack of defense for his father, and cannot respond as he would in a normal environment. Bettleheim acknowledges that keeping his pride was essential to his psychological survival. “…if the author should be asked to sum up in one sentence what, during all the time he spent in the camp, was his main problem, he would say: to safeguard his ego in such a way that, if by any good luck he should regain liberty, he would be approximately the same person he was when deprived of liberty”(Bettleheim 62). By keeping his experiences separate from his view of himself, Bettleheim attempts to remain sane. In contrast, Elie Wiesel’s memoir demonstrates an almost total loss of self that is tied to trauma. This is not surprising. Judith Hassan writes, “Life was no longer governed by the same set of values that had existed up until the onset of the trauma” (Hassan 18). Thus, the camps were not civilized environments, and the indignities they suffered pushed the prisoners away from their former selves.

The instinct to survive often contradicts Elie’s filial instincts. When his father is punished for weakness, Elie’s anger is sometimes directed at his father rather at the SS officers who caused the original pain. As his father is being beaten for working too slowly, Elie writes, “I had watched it all happening without moving. I kept silent. In fact, I thought of stealing away in order not to suffer the blows…Why couldn’t he have avoided Idek’s wrath?” (54). While the traditional father-son dynamic provides structure and hope upon arrival, Elie struggles to support his father in the camps. He tries to gives his rations to his sick father, or to train him to march correctly. However, subconscious resentment grows in Elie’s heart, further dehumanizing his civilized self. When he is searching for his sick father, he thinks to himself, “If only I didn’t find him! If only I were relieved of this responsibility, I could use all my strength to fight for my own survival…Instantly, I felt ashamed, ashamed of myself forever” (106). Elie’s complex relationship with his father is of immense love and guilt. He tries to help him, but does so in fear for his life. While he clings to his father as a remnant of his previous life, the trauma of the camps shifts his relationship in ways that would never occur in normal society. Bettlheim interpreted this disconnection from life in the real world and life in the camps by observing his fellow prisoners. “The prisoners’ feeling could be summed up by the sentence: “What I am doing here, what is happening to me, does not count at all; here everything is permissible as long and insofar as it contributes to helping me survive in the camp”” (Bettleheim 63). The extreme danger forced the men to adapt and adopt new modicums of living. While in civilized society the parent-child bond seems unbreakable, the Nazis created an environment that deliberately destroyed those bonds. Other prisoners in the camp experienced similar struggles. One of the first acquaintances Elie and his father encounter from home was forced to feed his father’s body into the furnace. On the transport train, a man kills his father for a single piece of bread, and he is then killed. As the prisoners are forced to run in the snow for hours, Elie runs alongside a Rabbi’s son, remembering later, “…his son had seen [his father] losing ground…and he had continued to run in front, letting the distance between them become greater” (91). The Rabbi’s son tried to save his own life, even if it meant abandoning his connection to the real world. Additionally, Wiesel particularly emphasizes the relevance of these events situated in the context of the holocaust, as each shifted father-son relationship took away the dignity of the men involved. When his father is ill and near death, Elie struggles with helping him or protecting his own life. He instinctually resents giving his food ration to his father, even as he does so, stating, “Just like Rabbi Eliahu’s son, I had not passed the test” (107). The test is one of ethics, but also a deep analysis of how trauma changes instinct. In any other situation, one would theoretically be proud of helping a parent, but the camps twisted the prisoners’ perception of pride and destroyed their socially learned instincts. Elie’s relationship with his father can be likened to an Oedipal complex where the son must kill the father to survive. In his father’s final hours, Elie ignores his father’s pleas for help, and states his awareness of the impact his instincts had on his psyche. “I shall never forgive myself. Nor shall I ever forgive the world for having pushed me against the wall, for having turned me into a stranger, for having awakened in me the basest, most primal instincts” (xii). The trauma of his father’s death and Elie’s own perceived role in it takes away any dignity that remained from his civilized life. Elie’s changed relationship with his father demonstrates the Nazi’s systematic model of genocide. The Nazis took away their victims’ sense of self in an attempt to entirely decimate the Jewish civilization, as well as any others who opposed their regime. In analyzing how concentration camp groups responded as a whole, Bettleheim wrote, “The main goal of the Nazi efforts seemed to be to produce in their subjects childlike attitudes and childlike dependency on the will of the leaders…it was very difficult not to become subject to the slow process of personality disintegration…” (83). The Nazis destroyed people’s individuality in their attempt of systematically reordering the population through eugenics. The loss of power over one’s life, and the loss of control over one’s reactions, produced severe traumatic results in the prisoners once the concentration camp prisoners were released. After he is liberated from Buchenwald, Wiesel has no thoughts of joy or revenge. His dignity was systematically, deliberately taken from him, and he lost his parents and younger sister. The result is that he is transformed forever. “…I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes has never left me” (115). After the trauma he experienced as a teenager in the camps, Wiesel’s entire sense of self has ‘died’, and he is changed forever.

Bibliography

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. Print.

Bettelheim, Bruno,. Surviving and Other Essays. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. Print.

Hassan, Judith. A House Next Door to Trauma : Learning from Holocaust Survivors how to Respond to Atrocity. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003. Print.

Anti-Bildungsroman in Night

A Bildungsroman story is that of formation, education, or coming of age. It is characterized by the development of the young protagonist to become a more complete person. The memoir Night by Elie Wiesel features the opposite, an Anti-Bildungsroman, as sixteen-year- old Elie emerges from the concentration camp at the end as a depleted person. Elie loses his family, he loses his faith, he is physically suffering and starved, and he likely will face trauma for the rest of his life. While he begins the story as a functional and healthy member of society inspired to live, he ends it with nothing at all.

A great contributing factor to Elie’s negative character development is the loss of his family. From the moment he hears the words, “men to the life, women to right,” he is never to see his mother and sister again. During their time in the camp together, he and his father grow closer than they ever have been before. This happens out of necessity for a reason to live, and their relationship carries them through times they otherwise could not have survived. However, eventually Elie’s father dies on the death march. After losing him, Elie has no reason for continuing to live, “nothing mattered to me anymore.” (113). Without his mother and sister, he has no other family to return to. From the loss of his family, Elie is left alone in the world and lacking reason to live at all.

Growing up, Elie’s religion was a defining part of him. It inspired him to live and to always continue learning. “Why did I pray? A strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?” (4). Over the course of the memoir Night, his religion is slowly dissected and torn down by his experiences in the camp. Because Elie’s expectations of god were so high, they were even more easily destroyed. With his faith taken from him, he is left with no passion in life and no hope. After seeing a child hanged and hearing another prison wonder where god is, he thinks, “this is where – hanging here from these gallows.” (65). He is not able to believe in a God that that would allow the horrors he is witnessing to happen, and so his main source of joy and inspiration in life dies. “The student of the Talmud, the child I was, had been consumed by the flames.” (37).

In addition to having lost spiritual and emotional reasons for living, Elie also experiences great physical suffering, which takes its toll on him. He describes himself in one incidence as “nothing but a body. Perhaps even less: a famished stomach.”(52). The horrible conditions in the camp drive the prisoners to abandon their humanity and only consider survival. “That’s all we thought about. No thought of revenge, or of parents. Only of bread.” (115). Elie even becomes dehumanized and survival oriented enough that he feels resentment towards his father for being weak. “I felt anger at that moment, it was not directed at the Kapo, but my at father. Why couldn’t he have avoided Idek’s wrath?”(54). Elie’s physical suffering plays a great role in how the concentration camp shapes him and affects him psychologically.

The trauma that Elie experienced in the concentration camps can never truly be recovered from, and will likely leave him feeling an outcast to the mainstream world for the rest of his life. When he sees himself in the mirror for the first time after he is liberated, he describes himself as “a corpse” (115). The version of him that entered the camp is dead, and now only an empty shell remains. “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.” (34). Attempting to create a life, even gaining the willpower to do so, after time in the concentration camps will certainly not be easy for Elie. Going through the trauma that he did was highly detrimental to him as a person and his experiences will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.

The memoir Night by Elie Wiesel features and Anti-Bildungsroman story: the opposite to the Bildungsroman story. Elie begins the story as a happy and healthy person with a lot to live for, and ends it with nothing as a result of his time in the concentration camps. His family is dead, he no longer believes in his religion, he has suffered physically, and he is badly traumatized. While some people try to spin all hardships into an opportunity for development, there is such a thing as meaningless suffering that does nothing but destroy people, and it is exactly the type of suffering that was endured by the countless people like Elie Wiesel who lived and died in concentration camps.