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Night by Elie Wiesel - Review

Saturday, May 25, 2024

I can't really believe that I've never read Night by Elie Wiesel before. I have probably said it before that I did Theology and Religious Studies at university and as part of that I studied a lot of world religions and Judaism was one of them. I read some Holocaust literature then and I've read a lot since. You can find other reviews that I've posted here on the subject under the tag 'Holocaust'. But for some reason I had never picked this up. I think I have an anthology of writings about the Holocaust which is huge and which I've never read, and I am pretty sure at least part of Night is in that. But I hadn't ever read this and I'm ashamed for that because it has got to be one of the most well known pieces of Holocaust writing, by a survivor. I am so glad I finally got to it. I'm not sure where I picked this up but I think it was in a charity shop recently - probably Skipton at the beginning of April. 

It's a small volume but gosh, the things that are contained within. I knew that Elie was a holocaust survivor, of course, but I didn't know that his family had almost escaped it. They weren't deported from their native Hungary until 1944. As a reader so many years later that just seems so drastically unfair - the war was almost over! Auschwitz was liberated at the end of January in 1945, just a few months later! But of course at the time Elie's family would have no way to have known that. 

Elie was the only son in a family with four children - two older daughters and his younger sister Tzipora, plus his mother and father. They weren't deported until after the Nazis invaded Hungary. First of all they were moved to a ghetto (please be aware that the word 'ghetto' refers originally to where Jews were forced to live in Venice in the 16th century) and Elie describes the first night there, a night which for him was to last years and years as he was first imprisoned in Auschwitz and Birkenau, and then Buchenwald when the Russians got too close to Auschwitz, and then post war. 

He details arriving at Birkenau. His mother and Tzipora were immediately sent to the death chambers; Elie never saw them again. His older sisters were sent to the women's section and they both survived the war, but it was obviously years before Elie saw them again. He mostly concerned himself with keeping his father, Shlomo, alive. The veteran inmates of the camp tell Elie and his father how lucky they are and also how to stay alive. 

Obviously, the details of the camp are horrific to read about. For that, I am not giving this book a rating and am just telling you to go and read it. It's a classic for a reason and something that everyone really should read in their lives, I think. I found it really interesting to read about inmates being moved from Auschwitz to Buchenwald (within Germany's borders) - it was a death march very close to the end of the war in Europe and many prisoners died on the way. This is a part of the holocaust and war in general that fascinates me - how does life go back to 'normal' afterwards? How do people move on? Many Jews spent time in Displaced Persons Camps when the war ended. 

I'm glad I read this. It is obviously brutal. Wiesel is a master with his words; I particularly liked the way he used 'we' to refer to what happened to people as a whole. He does this often and it really gets across the suffering that a mass of people went through. Read this now. 

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