Every time I see or hear of the word ‘holocaust;’ death, suffering and human rights come immediately to mind. The term ‘holocaust’ means, “sacrifice by fire” and it frequently refers to the Nazi’s persecution and planned slaughter of the Jewish people. Approximately eleven million people were killed during the Holocaust and six million of them were Jews. Night is the story of a boy, named Eliezer, who remains alive during the Holocaust whilst living in the concentration camps. This memoir also traces Eliezer’s emotional journey from being a practicing Orthodox Jewish boy to a profoundly disenchanted young man who questions the existence of God.
Eliezer’s year-long experience of the concentration camp led to him questioning his faith in God and to lose his childish innocence, thanks largely in part to the horrors that he witnessed on a near-daily basis. It becomes quickly established in the book that Eliezer’s faith is a matter of conflict: he wishes to believe in the goodness of his God but finds it difficult to do so on balance with the terrible, godless events that are happening all around him. This reflects the experiences of the author, Wiesel who lost his faith in God whilst suffering at the hand of the Nazis in Auschwitz: he says, “My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long” (Wiesel 68). Because he begins to question God’s existence as a result of God allowing these horrible things to happen, Eliezer begins to rebel against his faith. He questions why when the Jewish people are so devoted to him, God refuses to give them the help that they so desperately need. Eliezer questions the Jewish faith by asking God, “But look at these men whom you have betrayed, what do they do? They pray before you! They praise your name!” (Wiesel 68).
Eliezer’s loss of innocence is a gradual effect of the concentration camp. He details how his innocence began to evaporate on his first night, “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky” (Wiesel 34). It is unfortunate that, as a young child, Eliezer is witness to the truly evil horrors that mankind is capable of carrying out – this causes him to lose his childish naivety and become hardened and cynical about the world and his religion. This is understandable as even the strongest man would have struggled to remain strong in the face of such adversity, much less a young boy. It is the memory of his first night in the camp that Wiesel uses to introduce Eliezer’s religious crisis: Eliezer feels as though he has lost his soul as a consequence and knows that he will forever remember the terror of what he has seen; he states, “Never shall I forget these moments that murdered my god and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget these things; even were I condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.” (Wiesel 34). It is clear from this that Elizer’s faith stands in tatters but it is clear from his mention of God that it is not entirely vanished as yet. This represents the small hope that was left in Eliezer’s strong heart, despite his struggle.
Another important passage in the book occurs when Eliezer witnesses the agonizingly slow death of a young boy named Pipel: “Where is God now? And I heard a voice within me answer him: Where is he? Here He is – he is hanging here on these gallows…” This dreadful moment signifies the low point of Eliezer’s devotion to God. The death of the child also symbolizes the end of Eliezer’s childhood and innocence; when Pipels hangs from the gallows, he does so with Eliezer’s final scraps of innocence alongside him.
In conclusion, the evil of the concentration camps caused dramatic changes in Wiesel’s worldview. Once his faith is dramatically weakened, he becomes a different person. This spiritual dissonance seems to wear on Wiesel throughout his ordeal. Night is a story about the brutal loss of innocence which the concentration camps tore from Eliezer. Night is not, however, about making the reader sad or dwelling on the past: it is about remembering the events of the Holocaust – something which must be done in order to prevent it happening again. Wiesel wrote his memoir so that we would remember what happened and remember what civilized humans are capable of. Primarily, Night is a book which presents the evils of mankind as being synonymous with our questioning of religious faith as presented through the eyes of young man, Eliezer.
Wiesel, Elie. “Night”. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. Print.115 pages.
Spark notes. New York: Spark Publishing, 2007. Print
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Web. 14 Jun. 2011.