© First Serial Rights
Night by Eli Wiesel
Eli Wiesel’s English translation, titled Night, documents his family’s experience of the wrenching Nazi destruction of their community, the unspeakable pain of countless separations, the terrible shattering of optimistic illusions, the bestial transport to Auschwitz, and, after all energy and hope had been spent, the fearful agony of trying to avoid “selection” in order to gasp for another day. The unspeakable horror of Jewish experience in the Holocaust plunged Wiesel and many of his Jewish contemporaries into an existential crisis, as their faith in God and belief in the divine spark in every heart were consumed in the crematorial flames stoked with the house of Israel.
Wiesel’s description of the destruction of his community in Transylvania was only the beginning of sorrows. In his account of the insufferable train ride to Auschwitz, people descend to the level of beasts at the toss of a piece of bread, a boy even killing his own father for the coveted scrap, only to be beaten to death in retribution. And under the sentence of death, all moral constraints are lost in a sea of hopelessness. Wiesel writes sparingly - men and women laid down to “caress” at night.
Life in the death camp itself was about grim survival, under the pall of the crematoria’s constant belch of death smoke. In the logic of natural selection, the “might is right” ethos of Nazism, only the strong deserved to survive. The tired were shot at once, while the weak and sick were “selected”, by a wave of Mengele’s hand, for a visit to the gas chambers. The rest subsisted for one more day. Young Wiesel’s principal thought, at least for a time, was to stay close to his father, having lost all contact with his mother and sister earlier in the evacuation.
Yet even this last familial bond was exterminated, not by the gas chambers, but by the pressure of survival. Wiesel was urged to stop giving up his ration of food to his father and to look out for himself. The utter inhumanity of the death camps pressed home the logic of self-survival, inexorably fraying the last threads of human altruism to the breaking point, as some boys began to distance themselves from their weakened fathers, ultimately unwilling to carry them any longer.
The deniers present the Holocaust as a hoax, yet, Germany has outlawed the denial of the factuality of this unique crime. Either the witness of Eli Wiesel is true or the Holocaust is a massive elaborate deception, maintained now for decades through the lying memories of survivors and Jewish educational efforts to remind the world of what purportedly did not happen.
For Eli Wiesel, the memory of letting his father die alone is fused into his spirit forever. Ordinary Germans, even those who were not alive during the Nazi period, also testify to the palpable weight of collective guilt stemming from the Holocaust. Guilt, too, is another witness.
Ultimately, crisis reveals and absolute crisis reveals absolutely. The crisis of Germany under the jackboot of Nazi fascism and its hellish hijacking of every facet of German strength, technology, and efficiency for Jewish murder, revealed ordinary people who, out of fear for their lives, pulled down the blinds and pretended not to see. It is also the crisis of hopelessness and starvation in a cattle car that drove a boy to kill his father for a piece of bread.
Absolute crisis shows our capability for atrocity. Eli Wiesel’s description of this unparalleled, efficiently brutal horror mocks our romantic notions of human nature. To treat the Holocaust as merely an aberration is to refuse to be instructed, and to be willfully blind to the subsequent genocidal outbursts of the 20th Century and beyond.