Why did I read this book?
Auschwitz was famed to be one of the largest concentration camps with 1.1 Million Jews brought and exterminated during Nazi Germany. There have been multiple books, films, documentaries from multiple survivors, all covering distinctive aspects of one of the largest genocide in mankind history. I had also recently watched Schindler’s List, Judgement at Nuremberg and The Pianist, which sparked my interest in Holocaust stories.
The book is a 73 page autobiographical account of an 14 year old boy who survived to narrate his tale about the Auschwitz concentration camp during Nazi Germany. It’s a flat 120 minutes read with crisp writing style, and ranks among the most famous books of all time on this theme.
The Plot Summary
We hear the journey of the teenage boy, from his ancestral house in Hungary, his overnight escape to Jewish ghettos in Poland and the ensuing 3 years at Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Buna. The bookie website Goodreads sums it up very accurately for all the readers: “Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be”
What are my views on the book?
There is beauty in war-time stories or memoirs – these books have an abrupt transition, a change in scenery – that leads the protagonist to a path of inexorable destruction and alters the tone of the book. Overnight, they escape with nothing but a backpack of belongings, into a world of oblivion and no realistic chance of return. They go through emotions inexplicable in the range of words known to man. I know that, it’s a different era and different setting, but this book an underlying similarity to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1991, especially in Rahul Pandita’s work (Our moon has blood clots). Both are narrated from the lens of a teenage boy, capturing an undiluted sense of emotions – fear, betrayal, survival, greed, terror instincts and coming to terms with universal truth of death at such an early stage in life.
I will not touch upon the predictable content : mass scale extermination, cruelty, sadism, starvation and the violation of human rights on all accounts. What makes the book interesting, is the unapologetic portrayal of the raw emotions : There is a scene in this book, when the protagonist watches his friend abandon his dying father, to trade his life for a ration of soup and stale bread. The son feels no remorse on his actions and has a fleeting sense of glee – relieved from his old fathers’ baggage who was unable to walk or toil, relieved off blood relations that were now reduced to being a burden on his existence. Only in such moments, do you sense that human beings deprived of Maslow’s simplest needs, are reduced to helpless animals controlled by self-centric survival instincts. It also gives you flavour of human cruelty, a nudge out of the comfortable myopic world we reside in, into a twisted end. (Follow Black Mirror if you like this one)
There are grotesque scenes that captured the magnitude of the sadism : Human crematories, bartering gold teeth crowns for stale bread, digging graves for oneself, living in horse barracks for years, children being hanged, death march to Buchenwald.
Then there are heart wrenching moments when you feel the boy’s pain of separation from his homeland, from his blood relatives. If not enough, there is a gradual loss of faith and culture, and the transition is painful to witness. The boy, once a sworn Jew, with culture entrenched in his life, had eventually reduced it to only historical ruins.
Almost like any other memorial book – it also presents an amalgam of people and a gamut of emotions – hopeful mothers, tearful sisters, grim wives and forgotten kinship, traversing lands far and wide, with simply one single binding emotion of making it till the end of the War.
There is a flicker of good hope too: Holocaust survivors represent a surreal benchmark of human spirit; a miracle that remains celebrated even today, immortalized through books and documentaries
Bottomline: It’s a must-read. A poignant, heart wrenching tale of Nazi Germany.
Author: Ellie Wiesel (Published in 1958)
Genre: Non-fiction, War Memoir
Recognition : Nobel Peace Prize
What are some of the best lines from the book?
“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.”
“We were masters of nature, masters of the world. We had forgotten everything–death, fatigue, our natural needs. Stronger than cold or hunger, stronger than the shots and the desire to die, condemned and wandering, mere numbers, we were the only men on earth.”