Thursday, July 12, 2007

Night --- Elie Wiesel

A book that has been on my to-be-read list for the past year, since it was re-released in a new English translation in 2006, is Night, by Elie Wiesel, winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.

Finally, this week, I read it. I don't really know what to say about it, but that everyone should read it.

First released in French in 1958, Elie Wiesel starkly documents his experiences as a very young teenager in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was torn from his mother and younger sister, never to see them again, and watched his father die, before finally the American tanks came to Buchenwald and he was saved.

Almost matter-of-factly he tells his story. Only at times does he rail against his fate and against the God who he feels has deserted them all. I couldn't help but think of a book I read many years ago, Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, in which he tells of his experiences in German concentration camps. However Frankl was a man in his late thirties, a psychiatrist. In his book he documents his method of of survival and he analyzes the different behaviours he witnessed in the camps.

I can only say that these two books are essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand what the Holocaust really was. I'm not a Jew, but the Holocaust affected us all, as one bitter example of man's inhumanity to man. Let me reproduce the words of Elie Wiesel for you below. Nothing more need be said I think but this: Lest we forget.

Never Shall I Forget

Never shall I forget that night,
the first night in the camp
which has turned my life into one long night,
seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the little faces of the children
whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames
which consumed my faith for ever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence
which deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments
which murdered my God and my soul
and turned my dreams into dust.

Never shall I forget these things,
even if I am condemned to live
as long as God Himself.

Never.

Elie Wiesel

22 comments:

Eurodog said...

I read Elie Wiesel's two part autobiography a few years ago and I found it profoundly disturbing and moving. He used to be on french TV a lot a few years ago and he is very charismatic. My daughter who is in the French system and preparing her baccalauréat is having to read Primo Levi. She finds it "unbelievable". I remember seeing Roman Polanski's The Pianist with my children when it came out they were shocked because they realised that this was part of our history and although it was a movie it was based on real experiences. Have not read the Night but will do so.

Eurodog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eurodog said...

I read the two part autobiography in French and the beautiful titles are: "Tous les fleuves vont à la mer" and "Et la mer n'est pas remplie".
I do not know what the original language is but I suspect it is French. I am not at home so I cannot check on my bookshelf.

Chris said...

Have just ordered this book from Amazon. It's important to keep these important events in the public arena so that lessons can be learnt (hopefully).

By coincidence I've just left a comment on another blog about the fact that our government, in their (?)wisdom, have decided to reinvent the national school curriculum and part of this is to cut out reference to Winston Churchill & Hitler when teaching about WW2. In addition Gandhi, Stalin and Martin Luther King have been dropped from a list of key figures to be mentioned in history teaching. Just two remain: William Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano, both anti-slavery campaigners.

Another dumbing down of history!

Janice Thomson said...

I have read both books you mentioned Jmb and it is hard to swallow the evil and injustices that happened at that time in our history and not be profoundly affected and changed in some way. The movies The Holocaust and Schindler's List also did the same. That human life can be so valueless is shocking. Nor have we learned much from that part of history for still there are wars of great magnitude where senseless killing continues daily. What will it take I wonder before humanity realizes what it has done?

jmb said...

Hi Eurodog
I'll have to look for these two books too. I didn't realize he had written so many books until I read this one.
I have also read Primo Levi some years ago.
Probably the original language is French for his autobiography since it was for Night. The titles in French are indeed beautiful.
Your daughter may be interested to read this book since it is a very tiny book.
The problem is that as the years go by young people will find it unbelievable.
regards
jmb

Ellee said...

That's why I can understand why the Polish people are still so angry against the Germans, especially how they want to secure extra votes in the EU at their expense.

I think I too shall order this book.

jmb said...

HI Chris,
I hope you find this book as moving as I did.
I'm sorry to hear that the UK is dumbing down the History curriculum. I thought this was a North American phenomenon. Although I've never hear of Olaudah Equiano. I'll have to google him.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Janice,
Yes these films keep this subject in our minds thank goodness, in an even better way. But so many will say, it's just a film, just a story. But the two books are real people's words and experiences.
As you say, the killing still goes on for reasons just as senseless.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Ellee,
The memories are very long in Europe aren't they?
Australians should have long memories about the Japanese since many people my age had fathers who were prisoners of war in Japanese camps. But somehow they do not. In fact I can still recite 1 to 10 in Japanese that I learned from a neighbour who had been a prisoner.
regards
jmb

lady macleod said...

I still remember the day and where I was when I read this book. Very powerful, and I agree it is a must-read.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Definitely a book we should all read and I will look for it. We must not forget.

Voyager said...

Again I am off to the library because of your review and recommendation. Thanks.
V.

jmb said...

HI Lady M,
I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner. What I call an Important Book. So many books, so little time.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Welshcakes,

I'm sure you'll be able to find it in Italian too.
Do you have a Feltrinelli's nearby or is Modica too small for them? Or do you order online from the various Italian bookstores?
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Voyager,
You and I are keeping the library system going. I can't believer how many people I know who don't even have a card. It's not as if they aren't readers, it's just that they seem to buy everything they read.
regards
jmb

Ian Lidster said...

You know, I've never read anything by Wiesel, and I know I should. My problem is that I don't like reading in translation because I always think there are subtleties and essences one misses, no matter how adept the translator. And, since I only know English (and a smattering of French), it tends to limit me. That doesn't mean I haven't read translations of people like Solzhenitsyn,Pasternak, Zola, Hugo (and especially) Camus, etc., but it still makes me hesitant.

Sienna said...

I will read this, thankyou.

Never shall I forget, ever.

So so true.

Pam

jmb said...

Hi Ian,
This latest translation is by his wife of many years. Hopefully this would make it very faithful to his original.
It's true what you say about translation, I have read the same book in Italian and English and the English is very different if you compare line by line. That said I read a lot in translation, as you say how could we have read Solzhenitsyn or Zola or Hugo or so many other wonderful non-English speaking authors.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Sienna,

I know that people of my generation will never forget but what about in a 100 years.
The way we are going as a civilization we probably will have some other equally ghastly inhumanities to remember.
I think everyone should read this little book.
regards
jmb

ipanema said...

thanks for this review jmb. i've read a couple of his books if i remember right. Another blog friend just finished this. Thanks.

jmb said...

Hi ipanema,
I shall have to try some more of this author. He's a very good writer