Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Night by Elie Wiesel

Books. Some are hard to put down. Some make you laugh. Some make you cry. And then there are some that make you think very deeply. Night by Elie Wiesel falls into this last category.

Although the first edition of this book was published in September 1960, and Oprah Winfrey selected the book for her book club in January 2006, hubby and I only came to know of this book a week ago by chance.

We were in our room at Resorts World Hotel at Genting, watching Vision Four, an in-house video channel, and it was showing an old documentary of Elie Wiesel giving an acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize for this book.

The book is about the author's experience in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschtwitz and Buchenwald at the height of Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. He was sixteen years old when the US Army finally liberated Buchenwald.

What got me thinking deeply was that in the book, every human value, every moral was destroyed. Would anyone dream of abandoning their parent, whom they had clung to tenaciously  for the past one or three years to avoid being separated suddenly wished that the parent would die so that they would be free to have a better chance at survival? Or would a loving child jump on the father and beat him to death so as to grab that piece of bread crumb from him? Would a child who would retaliate against anyone who so much as laid a finger on his father lie quietly in a bunk above the same father and listened to him being beaten to death by the soldiers for fear of attracting the blows upon himself?

These are not the unfilial, rebellious children. But circumstances, or to be more exact, the horrors of the concentration camps have changed them. The human survival instinct kicked in. It became a "each man for himself, there is no fathers, no brothers here".

I kept asking myself, would I become like one of them, too, if I am in that situation? I don't know, since I haven't been through any suffering. I really hope I can rise above that selfish human instinct to survive, but I sure hope I don't live to experience it to get the answer.

The book was written in an easy-to-read narrative, and if I have a Book Club like Oprah Winfrey, I too would select it for my club and encourage everyone to read it. If nothing else, at least the reader will learn something: When there's a conflict, we must take sides. To remain silent is not being neutral. Being silent is condoning the actions of the oppressor and further victimising the oppressed. The world was silent, and in being silent, a monster (Hitler) came into being.

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