Young readers share their thoughts about Wiesel’s Night
15, Ann Arbor, Michigan
I grew up hearing the stories of my grandparents, who both survived the Holocaust, but when I read Night, it was in a different setting than I was used to: The text was assigned for my 9th-grade English class. I was able to see the impact that Night had on a group of teenagers who had had little exposure to the harsh realities of the Holocaust. It was amazing to see how well Elie Wiesel was able to speak to this group of young people. Night is such a powerful memoir because it reaches out to people of all ages, races and religions. It will keep the memories of the Holocaust alive for future generations, even when Elie Wiesel and other survivors aren’t physically present to recall their stories.
19, Alexandria, Virginia
As a non-Jew, it is impossible for me to understand the Holocaust or the experiences of those who fell victim to it. However, Night gave me the chance to read about it, to be told, “This is what happened. It was horrible. It was real. It happened to me and to so many others.” Even though I cannot understand the Holocaust, knowing that it happened and knowing what so many innocent human beings went through, is important. I will never forget Wiesel’s story. I will never forget how he and the Jewish people were treated. I will never forget the Nazis. They won’t get their final victory of erasure because Elie Wiesel refused to be silent.
19, Stuttgart, Germany
In Germany, we don’t usually read personal Holocaust testimonies in school; we learn about the topic in a more academic way, through facts and statistics. Night is very different from the accounts of other Holocaust survivors. While other survivors whose stories I read mainly listed what happened to them, Elie Wiesel created a great literary work. The metaphor of Night is awesome; it is a page-turner. Reading it helped me understand the human dimension of the Holocaust.
It is important to read the personal story of a single survivor. If we don’t talk about individuals, then this becomes Hitler’s victory. Hitler wanted us to only think about numbers and not about human beings. Reading this book inspired me to learn about the Holocaust, and it taught me that you must never be silent. We have to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves; that’s one of the most important lessons of the Holocaust.
18, Washington, DC
Night tells a story of total destruction. This past spring, I had the privilege of visiting Poland and Prague with my classmates. We, too, witnessed total destruction. We visited Kazimierz Dolny, which was a popular vacation spot for Jews before the Holocaust. We stood in beautiful synagogues in Prague that were once staples of vibrant Jewish communities but today are simply tourist attractions. We gathered in a small room in Theresienstadt, where words of Jewish prayer are fading from the walls. We mourned in the Buczyna Forest, where the Nazis murdered scores of Jewish children and threw their bodies into pits. And we saw places of destruction, too—Plaszow, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek.
Unlike Night, however, our trip did not end with total destruction. We spent one of our last days in Europe at the JCC in Krakow with Rabbi Avi Baumol, who seeks out the children and grandchildren of Jews who stayed in Europe after the Holocaust but hid their religious identity. If these descendants are interested, Rabbi Baumol introduces them to Judaism, with the hope of eventually rebuilding the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Through the rabbis, I came to see Poland as a place of rebirth, where new Jewish communities are beginning to thrive.
While Night ends with total destruction, Elie Wiesel’s life did not. He went on to advocate against human evil, to speak out against genocide and injustice, to constantly strive for a better tomorrow. With him gone, my generation and the ones that come after it must find ways to continue this pursuit—at home, in Israel and in seemingly unlikely places, like a JCC in Krakow.
15, Rockville, Maryland
The first few pages of Night reveal a lesson. As ignorance prevailed in Sighet with regard to the war around them, the townspeople believed themselves to be safe. They shut their ears to Moishe the Beadle’s experiences, turned a blind eye to the events foreshadowed by the restrictions on the Jews of Sighet and ruled out escaping to Palestine and other places because it was too inconvenient. Though optimism and hope are invaluable weapons in combatting peril and distress, to me Elie’s reflections are a call to not lose sight of reality or confuse hope with a false sense of safety.
Night is a humble request not only to never forget the tragedies of the Holocaust, as we so often say, but to never again become complacent, to never again lose sight of reality, and to never again allow ourselves and others to be hurt by things that we could have prevented, on a scale small or large. To assume that all things can be predicted, prevented or planned for is unrealistic. To me Night expresses a crucial need to find a balance between optimism and reality.
17, Albuquerque, New Mexico
If you aren’t aware of what has happened in the world, how is it possible to improve your future? To me this question has a very simple answer: You cannot. You cannot learn this lesson any better than through reading Night. Reading Elie’s book opened my eyes and gave me the ability to look beyond propaganda to realize what is going on in the world today. His writing influenced my goal in life. I want to be a lawyer so I can help those in need who are being discriminated against for circumstances not under their control. Night gave me the courage to want to become something more than myself.
15, Los Angeles, California
I am Jewish, and I am and always have been proud of it. Still, I never felt as strong a connection to my people as I did when I read Elie Wiesel’s story. Every second I spent in the eyes of Eliezer, the more I felt connected to what was happening. I was there with him as the SS officers whipped him in the middle of the room, with people watching, and in the moment when he felt like the corpses that lay in front of him.
After reading a portion of the book one morning, I thought of how I would react if the Nazis, or any other group, were to invade my town, my country, and the idea was terrifying. I think, and probably everybody thinks, that I would have been able to escape—but of course, most people would not even have a chance.
I have loved books my whole life, but this is the first book that I will go on to read at least 10 more times. I have been brought so much closer to my people. From now on, when a fellow Jew cries or laughs, I will cry and laugh with them. Now I know more about the pain they feel, the pain I now feel as well.
16, Bowie, Maryland
Elie Wiesel lived through the ghettos, concentration camps and deplorable treatment that millions of other Jews experienced as the Holocaust. But through his turmoil, he gained a voice. He spoke for those who never got the chance to. The authentic emotion conveyed by Elie’s words gave me a look into the pain of millions. When Elie’s father thinks he will be selected by the SS to be executed, he gives Elie a spoon. He thinks that he will no longer need to eat because he will be dead. This item is the only inheritance that his father has left him, adding to the emotion of the scene. The suspense builds as a bereaved Elie describes how he goes through his day thinking that his father has been killed, and the tension is released when we learn that there was a second selection and his father was spared. This book is an amazing and insightful look into the Holocaust.
14, Washington, DC
Night is one of the most meaningful and emotionally powerful books ever written. It functions both as an entry point into learning about the Holocaust and a powerful book for someone who has been studying the Holocaust for years. When I read it in school, it was my first time examining adult material on the Holocaust. The book is structured in such a way that the emotional and graphic aspects become more intense as the book progresses. This structure helped me, along with many of my classmates, in reading such an overpowering book.
Night is also emotionally wrenching. It intertwines faith, family and history so that each theme is explored to its fullest potential, while also not crowding each other out. There are a couple of chapters in the book solely dedicated to each theme. In one of the chapters on faith, one can tell how much thought Mr. Wiesel put into writing it and how much conflict and pain he endured. While telling the reader many of the terrible things that happened to him in the concentration camps, Mr. Wiesel also adds emotion, which gives the book a certain realism that isn’t found in documents that were written solely for historic purposes.
To read Night is an extremely important thing to do as a Jew and as a citizen of the world. As a Jew and a grandson of Holocaust survivors, I had always known that this catastrophe happened, but I had never explored the emotions and the horrors that went on during it because I was too young. After reading Night, however, I felt as if my Jewish and moral education had been furthered considerably because it is such a profound book.
This project was edited by Moment’s Jewish-German Dialogue Fellow Thomas Siurkus.