Elie Wiesel shares with us his experience of the German Nazi death camps. Wiesel speaks of the terrifying events he experienced and how these events shifted his relationship with his father. This is a relationship rife with challenges and obstacles. At the outset, we see a close loving and respectful relationship that is slowly turned to a burdensome and guilt-ridden picture.
Wiesel describes his father as somewhat closed, emotionally and more concerned with the welfare of those apart from him than even his own family. Wiesel’s father was very much entrenched in their community, and Wiesel viewed him as more devoted to the community than to the family. They also had differences in opinion on how Wiesel’s academic and religious studies should be pursued. Their bond from very early on was not nearly as strong as it could have been.
Life changed drastically when Wiesel’s entire family was loaded up into railway cars and taken by force to Auschwitz. At the camp, Wiesel’s father showed himself to his son as the strong and courageous man he always was, from whom Wiesel was distant. A mutual admiration and respect developed. The family was soon transferred to Birkenau, where women and men were separated. Wiesel had the opportunity to go with his mother and sister, but chose to attend to his father, who would have been all alone in the camp. Wiesel arrived at the realization that the only way he would survive this ordeal was to stick with his father.
The two endured subhuman conditions, physical abuse and faced certain death each day. The emotions Wiesel experienced were rife with highs and lows, recognizing that his father would be the singular hope of survival and his reason to remain alive. Sometimes, though, Wiesel found his father to be burdensome and difficult. Through all of this, they grew closer.
When the Russian invasion became eminent, the Nazis evacuated and took their prisoners on the long train ride to Buchenwald. Because of the horrifically dire conditions, Wiesel’s father was very ill and weakened to the point of near death. Upon their arrival, Wiesel relentlessly searched for his father. Wiesel had been in the infirmary and had gotten separated from his father during the rounding up prior to the evacuation. Wiesel was forever immersed in his memories of his time in the camps and his father’s death at Buchenwald.
Wiesel relates these terrible events, including the shame and guilt he has carried within himself surrounding the loss of his father in the camps, in the hope that no other human being, ever, will experience the things that the Wiesel family did during the Holocaust.
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, eventually learned that in the most horrifying and difficult times, infinitesimal differences really don’t matter.
Wiesel was presented in 1986 with the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been recognized as a “messenger to mankind. The total degradation and the utter dispisement with which he and his family were treated in the death camps were events that Wiesel has worked to come to terms with. Through his work in the cause of peace, Wiesel delivers a powerful message of human dignity, atonement and peace to all of humanity.
- Wiesel, Elie. Night. 1st ed. New York: Hill & Wang, 2006.
- The Elie Wiesel Foudation for Humanity, http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org
- Donadio, Rachel, The Story of Night, New York Times, January 20, 2008