Night is a short book written about the author’s time in the concentration camps as a young teenager. The first chapters show his family in its entirety – mother, father, sisters, himself, and a small reveal about the townsfolk, particularly his mentor who returns home with a vicious warning of their impending fate. It’s surprising to me how he is ignored and how the town refuses to think that it could possibly ‘happen to them.’ I suppose this is common human illogical when faced with devastating news – much like a medical diagnosis even if we’ve been leading unhealthy lifestyles. The tragic, inevitable strikes where Elie and his family go to Auschwitz, and he is then separated forever from his mother and sisters.
Being short, naturally the pacing is quick, but this is not meant to be an action-packed novel in any form. It’s instead a clinical retelling of unimaginable horrors and tragedies. The dry tone is a little offsetting, but I think this is the only way the author could tell it and open up about the painful memory. Sometimes becoming clinical is the only way to survive.
What happened to these poor people in Auschwitz and camps near Berlin is horrifying, but I think the most frightening fact this story conveys is how little emotion was left to the individuals placed in the haunting situation. With its bleak detachment, the story shows how they were turned into little more than animals, soulless and without emotion, even when their friends die in front of their eyes, where they begin killing their own fathers and sons for mere food. And wow, were these people starved.
They started to become immune to any form of death, sometimes finding relief in it as it freed up more room, food, warmth, and helped their own survival. They had to no choice but to let their emotion die, leaving them early on, detaching all that they once were from the new environment. It was too awful to endure while keeping yourself “mentally there.”
The worst scene, I think, was the end travel. The snow was frightening enough, but the starvation is something we could never imagine. The haunting scene of the son killing his father for the small piece of bread, then being killed himself as he tries to bite into it, is more than unsettling. It all starts with a game where the guards throw bread into the confinement area just to see what would happen and who would kill who for a such a small portion of nourishment.
At a mere 115 pages, the imagery and inner turmoil is potent. There’s nothing enjoyable in reading non-fiction such as this, but it’s important never to forget. Some people comment on the writing style as being dry and with little emotion, as if that were a negative thing (and in fiction it would be), but here it’s done the only way it can be for this particular author and is in no way written poorly.
“For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.”
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed....Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
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