Charlie George's Reviews > Night

Night by Elie Wiesel
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Oct 04, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir, classics, history, war
Read from September 22 to 29, 2010

The most widely discussed aspect of the book, the death of belief in god in the face of man's inhumanity to man, was of little importance to me. Of all the reasons for atheism, this is the absolute worst. In perpetuates the false stereotype of unbelievers as brooding, hopeless pessimists. This couldn't be further from the truth in my experience, but somehow such simplistic arguments endure. I appreciate what Wiesel has to say against Nazism, but not what he has to say for atheism.

This was certainly a bleak and disturbing account of one Jewish teen's survival in the Nazi concentration camps. It contained mind-bending, truly alien horrors at the level of executing a child by hanging, and leaving him to choke to death over the course of hours, rather than seconds because he was too light. Another gruesome one that stuck with me was children made to witness the madness or death of their parents, left helpless and alone. Pretty hard to stomach.

For me the most important function of the book is a cautionary tale. The townspeople in Transylvania could and would not believe the warnings that came to them about the camps. If they had believed the threat, they had ample opportunity to uproot their lives and emigrate further away from the Nazis.

They posed this very sensible question, and the answer should shock us. Wipe out an entire race of people, spread out across the world among the populations of myriad countries!? Preposterous, how could the Nazis hope to accomplish such a task? What means could they employ?

In the early part of the book, Wiesel demonstrates some of these means. Employ a gradual hemming in. Present a nice, diplomatic face. Coerce and intimidate. A perverse use of weaker, struggling governments, police forces, individuals--use their instinct at self-preservation to advance your goals. Let your enemy's friends tell your lies and do your work for you, and it will be more readily believed, more effective.

First gain access to a country, then send officers to move in and call the shots, one town at a time. In each case, identify the target families, turn their peers against them, isolate them and steal all they own, move them them into a concentrated area. Threats become gradually more and more overt and life-threatening. Train guns on the area and put up a fence before the mask finally comes off. It is now too late to escape. All pretense gone, finally, deportation into Germany where the furnaces await. Astonishing.

The more widely discussed aspect of the book, the death of belief in God in the face of such horrors, was of little importance to me. Of all the reasons for atheism, this is the absolute worst. In perpetuates the false stereotype of unbelievers as brooding, hopeless pessimists. This couldn't be further from the truth in my experience, but somehow such simplistic arguments endure. I appreciate what Wiesel has to say against Nazism, but not what he has to say for atheism.
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