Book Review: “Night”


Author: Elie Wiesel

I was watching “The Oprah Winfrey Show” a few weeks ago when Oprah made an announcement that caught my attention: her latest book club selection was a new translation of “Night”. I don’t belong to the book club, but I do believe the book is one of the 10 most important available in English, so I acquired a copy. It was not surprising
that the book still had a profound effect on me.
I first read the 1972 edition of “Night” in high school. It was required reading for one of my courses. I had studied the Holocaust fairly extensively, knew the facts, had seen the sickening newsreels. But it was “Night” that put a human face on the Jewish experience for me. It wasn’t just the reading of the book that did this. I actually met the author.
Elie Wiesel came to my school to discuss his book and the events that took place in the concentration camps as he knew them. The class was rapt with attention. Mr. Wiesel was only a few years younger than we when he was sent to Auschwitz. The pain of what happened there was evident in his face. The losses he experienced, including the loss of his faith, were beyond what the average person could endure. He did not know how he managed to survive, only that he had. But despite this, he spoke of peace and how we should never lose sight of the pursuit of it. This changed me. I realized that if someone who had lost everything could believe in peace first and foremost, I, who had at that point led a life of privilege, could certainly do the same.
Wiesel went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. His acceptance speech is included at the end of this edition of “Night”. The speech is quite powerful and alone is reason enough to pick up this book.
“Night”, quite simply, is Wiesel’s first-hand account of how he was removed from his home as a teenager in 1944, forced into a cattle car, sent to a Nazi camp and survived against overwhelming odds. The book is mercifully short, the sentences not excessively descriptive, the language direct. The horror of the facts as they are told is
riveting enough, so no flowery language is necessary. Its very simplicity makes it possible for the reader to go to Auschwitz and Buchenwald and understand the magnitude of what happened there. I would challenge a person not to be moved by reading this book.
Wiesel captured well the chaos of the transports, the selections, the executions. From the first day the ghettos were formed, he was surrounded by rumor, hysteria, false hope and confusion. The day he was separated from his mother and sister, he did not know he would never see them again. The SS and sometimes even fellow prisoners would instill despair in the camps so that it was impossible to know whom to believe. Upon their arrival in Auschwitz, they were told they had two choices: they could work or they could be cremated. One never knew when he might be selected for the line that led to the chimneys, or whether he would get rations, or if he would be beaten. Wiesel was chosen to be a simple laborer along with his father.
After he was assigned a “profession”, he and his father were sent to a nearby camp called Buna. They were allowed to work side by side in a warehouse. Their days were measured in rations of soup. They narrowly escaped being selected for the crematorium. And they wondered with the other prisoners whether they would be liberated by the Red Army. But before that could happen, they were evacuated from the camp.
They were sent on foot in the snow to Gleiwitz, and three days later, they were put on another cattle car bound for Buchenwald. Wiesel’s survival there until the camp was indeed liberated a few months later was inexplicable, even to him. But he never forgot the events that had befallen him.
Wiesel decided during the 1950’s that he needed to write down his testimony of his experiences, to serve as witness to the rest of the world. His original manuscript was in Yiddish, and it was translated to French for publication in 1958. The translations into English in 1972 and 1985, according to Wiesel, were not completely accurate translations. So the 2006 version was translated by Wiesel’s wife Marion so that she had his input in revising some important details.
Re-reading this book as an adult who has experienced losses due to llness and circumstance, I find that it still gives me perspective. I am allowed to live each day, not just to merely survive it. And the message of peace Elie Wiesel passed along to me 25 years ago is still valid. In fact, with so few survivors of the Holocaust remaining,
this book may be more important now than ever.
At the very least, this will be one book you do not forget.
Review written by: Karen Brauer
Title: Night
Author: Elie Wiesel
Publisher: Hill and Wang
IBSN: 0-374-50001-0