By Elie Wiesel
Night is the memoir of Elizer (“Elie”) Wiesel, a Jewish teenager who was evicted from his small, Hungarian town to the Birkenau concentration camp in 1944. With his father, mother and sisters, Wiesel was herded into cattle cars and shipped for days without food and little water. When they arrived at Birkenau, Wiesel and his father were separated from his mother and sisters, whom he never saw again. Wiesel describes a poignant intra- psychic struggle as he begins to doubt his faith in both God and humanity. During the winter of 1945, fear of impending liberation caused the Nazis to evacuate Buna and move the prisoners to Buchenwald, another concentration camp. In an ironic twist of fate, Wiesel could have chosen to stay at Buna with his father in the infirmary where they would have been liberated in a matter of days. Instead, he feared he and his father would be killed should any liberators arrive. Instead they chose to flee, and were forced to run for more than 50 miles in a snowstorm. Many prisoners, including Wiesel’s violin-playing friend, died due to exposure and exhaustion. Those who survived the march were then herded into cattle cars and transported to Buchenwald. Wiesel survived and was liberated by American soldiers in April 1945.
Night provided many avenues for discussion, particularly focusing on the virtues of Hope and Faith. We talked about how individuals can survive horrific circumstances and still have Hope for the future and maintain Faith in humanity. We discussed Wiesel’s loss of Faith during his imprisonment, and the anger and betrayal he felt. These conversations also led us to discussions of Justice and forgiveness. We also delved into Charity when discussing the relationships among the prisoners, and the incredible Fortitude displayed by the prisoners.
Despite being relatively short, the writing and the issues Night presents are better suited for stronger readers. This group was comprised of voracious readers, and we were able to move quickly through several Holocaust books. In conjunction with Night, and Oprah Winfrey’s interview with an elderly Wiesel on the grounds of the former concentration camp Auschwitz, we also reviewed the movie, The Pianist, and read The Zookeeper’s Wife, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and The Devil’s Arithmetic. For a service project, we visited a local Holocaust Museum, heard from the grand-daughter of a local Holocaust survivor, and created artwork to be displayed at a nearby community center.