About a year ago, a friend of mine took me to the Amarillo Pubic Library, where they had basement full of books they were giving away to members of the library for a very low price. In part fundraiser, part making room for newer books, it was an excellent way to get good books cheaply. Though I’m happy to pay full price at the local Barnes & Nobel, or buy off Amazon, I couldn’t resist grabbing a few books.
For $20, I left with three grocery bags full of various books. One that caught my eye was Elie Wiesel’s The Night Trilogy. I, of course, had heard of Mr. Wiesel, but I had never bothered to read any of his works. With so many books to read, his never seemed to me to be must reads, but at that moment I felt compelled to grab it. I love books, and though I have an ever-growing stack that I have never read, a few more couldn’t hurt.
Then the books stayed in the bag, out of sight, out of mind. I had forgotten that I had grabbed that particular book. I had other concerns, matters more pressing than stories of fiction and autobiographical accounts from a time slowly being forgotten, of a generation slowly eroding into memory.
But Friday night, as I was winding down for the weekend, I decided to get off my phone – a bad habit that I have squandered too many of my free hours on – and find something to read. I felt, as maybe some of you might understand, that I have not worked my intellectual side at all for far too long. That’s when I came across the Trilogy. I hesitated for a moment, then decided I needed to read it.
The Night Trilogy comprises three separate works, Night, an autobiographical account of himself and his father as his family is torn apart, and a look at the horrors of the holocaust from someone on the inside of a concentration camp. It offered the reader a horrifying glimpse at the lengths evil is capable of inflicting onto those they consider less than human.
Dawn is a work of fiction, about a young man’s fight for an independent state within Palestine, a state that would eventually become Israel. The story is about the lead up to dawn, and the narrator’s duty to execute an English officer, a retribution for the execution of one of their own members of the resistance.
The Accident – also titled Day – is another work of fiction, this time about a man unable to get past his own history, of the horrors and suffering that make him incapable of living in the present, of being able to enjoy the simple company of a woman, a woman who loves him. He is forced to confront many of his issues when an accident, him getting run over by a cab, leaves him near death, confined to a hospital bed for months.
These works were not light reading. These were not stories of the protagonist coming to his happy everafter. In many ways, the antagonist was the protagonist himself, of struggling to survive, of working through his own guilt, of not surrendering to despair. Even in Night, where the main evil are the Nazi guards in the concentration camps, there appears to be an internal struggle to survive.
Scholars and intellectuals can, and have, better dissected these works. There is no point in my trying to explain themes or moral points that come across. What I took away is that while one can survive unimaginable horrors, its not without having an indelible mark on you, a memory of an experience etched into every fiber of your existence.
What’s more depressing, is that mankind has not advanced since the days of the holocaust. War looms ever-present in our midst. The same hatreds haunt our waking moments. Prejudices against the other is very much a reality. Genocide is still present in our world. Anti-semitism has not faded away.
Looking at the world as it exists today, Elie Wiesel’s books should serve as both a testimonial of what civilization endured, and a warning against where it can go away. We have the obligation to learn from the past, but there are those that deny that the holocaust even happened. It is of them we should particularly fear, for they are the one that desire to destroy those who are unlike themselves.
We should learn from the past to guard against the same evil resurfacing in today’s world. He struggled in his faith in a God that could allow such evil to exist. It’s a question that many of us have struggled with, for various reasons. But the devil here is man’s own propensity to commit atrocities against other men.