“It was pitch dark. I could hear only the violin, and it was as though Juliek’s soul were the bow. He was playing his life. The whole of his life was gliding on the strings–his last hopes, his charred past, his extinguished future. He played as he would never play again…When I awoke, in the daylight, I could see Juliek, opposite me, slumped over, dead. Near him lay his violin, smashed, trampled, a strange overwhelming little corpse.”
-Elie Wiesel, “Night”
Holocaust survivor, writer, and peace activity, Elie Wiesel passed away today at the age of 87.
It was earlier this year that I read his classic memoir, “Night” for the first time.
As with any firsthand account of the Holocaust, “Night” is a journey into the lowest depths of the evils of humanity. In it, you see the cruelty of the Nazis, the unimaginable living conditions for Elie and the other prisoners. It’s haunting. It’s distributing.
But it’s also reality. And for that reason, a powerful story that needs to be told. As Wiesel said in the book:
For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.
-Elie Wiesel, “Night”
It’s a short book, but every sentence in “Night” is important to telling this story. At times, it reads more like a novel than a memoir. With other books of this nature, I think it’s hard to not put myself in the author’s shoes (though knowing that the reality had to have been infinitely worse than what I could imagine). I feel that, through the medium of the printed word, a great writer can arrest you and bring you into his world.
Night gives a better understanding of the psyche of concentration camp prisoners.
Through reading of the harrowing experiences of Wiesel, this book is also a testament to the will to survive in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances.
It was a meeting with French writer Francois Mauriac in 1954 which would inspire Wiesel to write an account of his time in the death camps.
The New York Times obituary does a good job of discussing Wiesel’s life and impact.