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Night , by Elie Wiesel, is an autobiographical account of Elie Wiesel as a young boy going through several concentration camps during World War two. He explains what it was like being a Jewish boy and the atrocities he and his people had to endure. The book starts with Elie and his family living in the little town of Sighet in Transylvania. Elie had three sisters: Hilda and Bea were the two oldest while the third was the baby of the family, Tzipora. Elie s parents ran a little shop in town with the help of Hilda and Bea. His mother and father felt that his place was in school. Throughout Elie s life his faith had been very important to him. He was always fascinated with the mysticism behind the Jewish faith and wanted only to study the cabbala. It was during this time in his life that the fear of being deported and taken to concentration camps was becoming very real. Then the day came where German soldiers entered the town and ordered everyone to board the train. Elie and his family were boarded on the last train to leave the town. None of them knew what to expect, all they had to guide them were the horror stories they had heard of Jews being massacred. One story which Elie recalled hearing was that of Jews being transported to the woods where they were, made to dig huge graves , where they were to buried in. (Wiesel 4) He also recalls people telling him of, Babies being thrown in to the air and machine gunners used them as targets (Wiesel 4).
Their journey ended when the train came to a stop and the sign that Elie saw read the name Auschwitz . From there everyone got off of the train where an SS officer said to them, Men to the left, Women to the right (Wiesel 27). This was the last time Elie ever saw his mother and sisters. It was not until much later in his life that he found out that his mother and youngest sister were killed while in Auschwitz. It was also in Auschwitz where he saw first hand his people being sent to the crematories. All that was left of these people was the black smoke, which rose into the air along with the stench of death that pervaded everything around him. Elie and his father were then forced to learn the survival skills necessary for life in a concentration camp. They were told that when asked whether or not they were skilled craftsmen to reply no . Also, they were told to try not to appear too strong or to answer yes if asked if they were strong because of the types of jobs they would be given. Elie found out later why exactly they would not want to do these jobs talked about. An acquaintance of his was a big man whose only responsibility was to carry the dead to the crematory and throw them in. One day he had the unfortunate responsibility of throwing his wife and son in to be cremated.
Many Jews became so weak that they were unable to perform their daily jobs and subsequently they were shot. This was everyone s main motivation to keep working because quite literally it was either work or death. The ration they were given was a cup of coffee and a piece of bread for breakfast and usually some sort of soup and bread for lunch and dinner. Elie was told that these conditions were the nicest most of the men there had ever experienced. These conditions also brought Elie and his father closer together while it tore him apart from nearly everyone else in the camp. He very quickly discovered that it became everyone for themselves in order to remain alive. Men would steal rations from those who were either sick or not paying close enough attention to what was going on around them. The only person who ever looked out for Elie was his father. This is one of the main reasons Elie was able to survive his journey through the concentration camps.
One of the hardest things Elie dealt with during his time in the camps was his faith in god. He routinely saw women and children hanged for no real apparent reason. Men were shot down right in front of him just because they were not working fast enough. All of these things lead Elie to question whether or not there was a god and if so if he even cared about them. He really began to doubt god after one particular experience in which a young child was hanged.
For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red; his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: Where is god now? And I heard a voice within me answer him: Where is he? Here he is-He is hanging here on this gallows . (Wiesel 62).
When the Jewish year was coming to an end Elie found himself not even wanting to participate in any of the activities, which thanked god for the things he had done for them. He felt he had no reason to give thanks to any god who would allow thousands of children to be burned in pits. By six crematories that he let run night and day. He began to feel a general hatred for god, the God who chose them among all the races to be butchered.
When things seemed to be at there absolute worst there came a glimmer of hope. A rumor was going around stating that the Russians were close and that they were going to liberate this camp. As soon as this scenario became a possibility it was taken from them. Every man and woman in the camp was gathered to be taken to another camp. This time, however, they would not have the luxury of traveling by train. They were forced to run through the heavy snow for forty-two miles. Anytime someone would slow down or stop they were shot. They had to endure this to simply start over again at the next camp they arrived at. They reached their destination at the concentration camp of Buchenwald. A few days after their arrival, Elie s father became very sick with Dysentery. He became delirious and began crying out for his son and was struck down by guard. This blow ended his life. From that moment on, Elie cared for nothing except looking out for himself. In the last day in a concentration camp, Elie, as well as everyone else, thought they were being marched to their deaths. There had been word of the Americans coming to free the camp. The Germans were taking them to be shot when the resistance movement disguised in the German army acted and fought back against Hitler s army. The battle was theirs. In his first act as a free man, Elie scoured the camp for food after which he imposed a ten-year vow of silence upon himself before he would describe to anyone what happened to him and six million other Jews. He was liberated on April 11th, 1945. One year of his life which would change him and many others forever.
This was a unique book in that it focused on one child s journey but it applied to an entire race of people. There was no theme of heroism or courage throughout the book. It was simply surviving through the absolute worst conditions a human being can be put under. The end of the book marks the end of the immediate devastation, which has occurred. The war is over, the camps have been liberated, and Elie Wiesel is still alive. However, the ongoing devastation has only just begun. This devastation will carry on forever. History has been scarred by the events that had taken place over the last decade. Six- million lives had been lost in one group of people simply because of what they believed in and who they were. It is even interpreted in the book that those who survived the camps really did not. The first time Elie goes to look in the mirror since being liberated this is what he describes: From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared in to mine, has never left me (Wiesel 109). The main point of this story is never really said aloud. The fact is that this man s story is not unique. Much worse things happened to many more people during this same time period. What was the purpose behind everything that happened? W.W.II was the war to end all wars. This, however, was not the case. Throughout history mankind has been at war for one thing or another. The only real thing that has changed has been lines on a map. The cost of these changes has been millions upon million of lives. One of the ideas hidden in the words of this book asks us if the ends justify the means? Is all of this really worth what is happening? A child, born of a proclaimed holy race, raised to live for god and the eternal is sucked into the worst situation for anyone who has faith. What really happened to Elie Wiesel was the death of god in the soul of a little boy who encountered absolute evil. God has played an important role in many people s lives. He has been the reason behind many actions people have taken, including war. His presence in this book is a negative one.
The main theme of this story is that war will cause people to commit unspeakable acts, which they never would have thought about outside of those circumstances. Just as individuals can plead temporary insanity, so can people, such as the Jews, during wartime. People just like Elie were forced to betray their own family and friends just so that they cold have an extra piece of bread to eat. The consequences of that action could very well be the death of someone whom you cared very much about. Technically this would label them as murderers. These people have to ask themselves for the rest of their lives whether or not that was murder or simply survival. Just as George Corell, in The Moon Is Down , betrayed the people of his own town so that he may survive. Many Jews had to do the same so that they may survive. There is a comparison between this book, which is based on a true story, and every play we have read in this course to date. In All My Sons , by Arthur Miller, Joe Keller was forced to ship out defective parts to be put into airplanes, which caused the death of several men. This never would have happened if there was not a war going on. Joe had pressure from the Army to produce these parts or face being put out of business. The result of that is he would not be able to provide for his family. Joe acted out of desperation for his family, For you, Kate, for both of you, that s all I ever lived for (Miller 64). In Medal of Honor Rag , DJ admitted that something inside of him just snapped and that was why he killed all of those people. They were in fact the enemy who had just killed his unit, his friends, but that never would have happened without the war. Because of what happened to him during the war he felt dead, just as Elie did. DJ tells the Doc, I m dead already (Cole 26). He survived the war but it killed him anyway. Mark s story from Still Life is no different. Because of everything he experienced during the Vietnam War he was never the same. The way he treated his wife and how he acted was a direct result of his war experiences. Mark feels that the way he is seen by other people is a direct correlation to why he acts the way he does and he is afraid to tell his story. He says, It s getting hard to talk. Obviously, I need to tell it, but I don t want to be seen as a monster (Mann 20).
Throughout this course, war has been the reason why people are not responsible for their actions. It shouldn t necessarily be considered a theme more then it is a result of war. The military wants to have soldiers who are more then just men. They are machines trained to follow orders. Through their training they are broken down to believe everything they are doing is the right thing without concern for the repercussions their actions have on other people. The military wants machines. That is why everything nowadays has become automated. They are eliminating the need for actual persons on the field of battle. Thereby eliminating the need for people to make decisions that could be affected by their conscience. Hitler s troops were told and trained to believe what they were doing was right and just. Just as the Jews learned to believe that caring only for themselves in the concentration camp was the only way to survive. Who was to blame and who was in the right? Wars of the past century have not been about the wants and needs of an entire people. They have been about the wants and needs of a handful of men. For whatever reasons wars have been fought many things have always been the same. Innocent people have been affected and people have done things, which they never would have done otherwise. These things are also reasons why many people, such as Elie, question their faith in a higher power. Especially since most practicing religions believe in valuing life. Almost every religion has their own version of the Golden Rule which is, Do unto others that which you wish done unto you . It is almost ironic that three fourths of the world believes in the Golden Rule yet we still find a reason to kill people and in the case of W.W.II, genocide. It is almost as if the true nature of people is war. That just perhaps deep down inside this is what the world really wants.
Throughout this class we have studied three different wars. We have watched film and read scripts from the time periods of each of these wars. Every script and every film has portrayed to us a story of tragedy. How someone or several people s lives have been greatly and tragically affected due to a war. Yet, in every one of these stories war has been glorified. It is as if the world thinks that it is something great to die fighting for a cause in wartime. What most of these films and stories fail to portray to us is the suffering many people endure. War is not glamorous or even righteous. The true theme of any war is death. The only thing that has been accomplished every time groups have done battle has been death. It is a sad commentary on humankind. No matter how war is portrayed to us, the one thing we can be sure of is that throughout history most people do not know the value of human life. The best way to sum up what I have learned from this class and these stories is summed up by the words of Francois Mauriac, We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Eternal is the Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to him. (Wiesel xi).
1. Cole, Tom. (1977). Medal of Honor Rag. Samuel French, New York: N.Y.
2. Mann, Emily. (1982). Still Life. Dramatists Play Service, NewYork: N.Y.
3. Miller, Arthur. (1974). All My Sons. Dramatists Play Service, New York: N.Y.
4. Steinbeck, John. (1942). The Moon Is Down. Dramatists Play Service, New York: N.Y.
5. Wiesel, Elie. (1960). Night. Bantam Books, NewYork: N.Y.
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