Night Elie Wiesel

Inspired by a review I looked at yesterday, I took this book up (again?--I honestly can't recall if I've read it before, though I'm certain I've held it in my hands and nearly certain I've read it--but upon rereading remember almost nothing of it) and swiftly finished.  It is a short book.  Very short.  And like Frankl's but in some sense a mirror image of it, a powerful book. 

Elie Wiesel was a 14 year old boy living in Hungary when the Hungarian Holocaust occurred.  Now, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that for the majority of the war, the Hungarian Jews had a measure of protection from the Holocaust.  The ruler of Hungary refused to go along with the German plan with regard to the Jews.  That isn't to say that life was easy or without hardships or prejudice, but until 1944, the Hungarian Jews knew little or nothing of the holocaust.  That all stopped suddenly, dramatically, in 1944 when a new government, a more cooperative government came into power and Hungary's Jews were gathered for the final solution.

Night is the story of one of these Hungarian Jews. It is spare and unrelenting. While it does not flinch at looking the horror of what happened in the face, it's merciful brevity adds more punch to the profound questions that the author makes no real attempt to address.  Where was God?  What was God doing while this happened to the chosen people?  Here was a young, ardent Jew, one who wanted to study the Kabbalah, faced with one of the greatest horrors humankind had ever brought forth.

I can add nothing to the recommendation that I noted yesterday.  But this seems to me to be required reading.  with Anne Frank, Victor Frankl, Tadeusz Borokowski, Primo Levi, Imre Kertesz and a few others, this narrative gives yet another picture, from the inside, of the horrors of that time.  Even when we are invited in through the narrow camera-view of a single person, it is beyond our ability to imagine the extent of the horror, the alienation, the complete unreality/surreality of what was undoubtedly real and happening then and there.  It is a merciful blankness on our part, but a dangerous one.  Our inability to truly grasp what occurred makes it all too probable that events may transpire to allow it to happen again.  And so, chronicles like these are valuable as signposts and warnings--constant reminders of the depths to which humanity can stoop--and our willingness to do so at the slightest provocation--or, in this instance, no provocation at all except the one we dream up.

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