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Without a doubt, one of the darkest episodes in the history of mankind involved the systematic extermination of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and gays by Nazi Germany. In order to get a good sense of the horror and despair that was felt by the interned, one simply needs to read the memoirs of Elie Wiesel in his “Night”, as translated from French by Stella Rodway and copyrighted by Bantam Books in 1960.
Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, Transylvania. His parents ran a shop and cared for him and his three siblings, Hilda, Bea, and Tzipora. Early on, the Jewish community of Sighet payed little heed to the stories of what had happened to foreign Jews that were expelled. By the time Germans had entered Sighet, it was too late for the people to escape their fates. At first, they were made to give up all of their valuable possessions and move into makeshift ghettos. Next came deportation of the entire community to the Auschwitz internment camp. The way that the people were piled into cattle wagons was only a precurser of appalling events that were to come. The horror really dawned on Elie when he realized that the large smokestacks that he saw were from crematoriums that were set up to burn the bodies of the thousands upon thousands of Jews that were killed in the gas chamber. Elie paints a portrait of life in the camp, which included hours of back-breaking labor, fear of hangings, and an overall theme throughout the book: starvation. The prisoners were given only black coffee in the morning, and soup and a crust of bread in the evening. The most terrifying aspect of the entire experience was the “selection”, the picking out of those that were to sick, old, or weak to be useful. These unfortunate souls were thrown into the fires. The one constant in Elie’s life was his father, who along with his son and all other prisoners, were later forced to evacuate to trains that would bring them to the Buchenwald internment camp deep in Germany, under the pressure of the Allied forces on the area. The final horrific scene in this book was how the interned, in mass, were forced to run full speed for hours on end, the people that lagged being shot on sight. The story culminated in the death of Elie’s father, and the eventual freedom of the Survivors of these death camps.
The way that Elie describes the people and events around him brings to life the suffering and heartache that surrounded him. He was able to catch the essence of the people discussed in the book, from the cruel Hungarian police in Sighet, to the broken down shell of his dying father, who needed to be looked after like a little child before his death. In describing how starving men fought to the death over tiny scraps of bread, he allows us to grasp the very nature of hunger, and how it can affect anyone. In talking about the children, Elie really develops the abhorrence of the whole situation. His vivid description of a child being hanged, how he was still alive, “struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes”, truly captured the ghastly occurrences of the death camp. His own discussion of how he had lost faith in a God, and how other sons were leaving or even beating their fathers with no care enlightened me to the true despair that surrounded the people that inhabited these camps. His defiance to his religion at the solemn service of Rosh Hashanah is the culmination of his unbelief of his life’s ambitions to learn the cabbala. On the physical shape of the survivors, he sums it up with the description of himself in a mirror as “a corpse” that “gazed back at me”. This alone installed in me the overwhelming sense of how this event so completely ravaged the human soul.
When looking into the book’s historical accuracy, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that the events told , no matter how unbelievable, truly did occur. The Holocaust was the culmination of Nazi-German resentment towards European Jews. This genocide of staggering proportions was carried out with meticulous efficiency by a well-coordinated
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