Monday, March 19, 2007

"Night" by Elie Wiesel

This is now considered a classic, assigned in schools all over the country, just recently added to Oprah's recommended reading list. Back in my time at school, however, it was still relatively unknown and as such I hadn't read it. I can see why it's part of the current curriculum; it's just as powerful as "The Diary of Anne Frank" and just as important to anyone trying to understand that dark time in history known as The Holocaust.

This slim book is Wiesel's story of the concentration camps, an extremely harrowing ordeal. His family lived in Sighet, Transylvania until the Nazis arrived in 1944. At first, no one wanted to believe that anything bad would happen, even though all the Jewish families in town were segregated and moved to "ghettos". Within days the Nazis started rounding up the families and shipping them by rail to Aushwitz; I do mean shipping, as the people were treated more like cattle than human beings. Wiesel was separated from his entire family save his father. The remainder of the story is their attempt to survive the horrors of the concentration camps.

It's never a bad thing to be reminded of the darkest times of history, for the old adage is correct: those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. While there have been dictators since, some extremely vicious men, no one has come close to committing the heinous sort of crimes that Hitler was able to accomplish. Had he been just a bit more successful, it is entirely possible that the Jewish people would have been eliminated entirely - not only their persons but their history as well. Thank goodness that didn't come to pass, but it was very, very close.

Despite the power of the story itself, it is something that Mr. Wiesel says in his introduction to this new translation that caused me to stop and think. While explaining some of the edits to the original publication and what might have made it otherwise, he throws in one line, a very disturbing line to me, "Books no longer have the power they once did." This is just unthinkable to me, and I hope, to you as well. Books have been and hopefully always will be a powerful way to get one's point out to the masses. Granted, not every book is going to be a life-changing experience, and that's okay. Just as one would grow very bored and possibly waste away on just bread and water, one cannot (or should not) rely on just one type of book to fill all one's reading needs. But there are very powerful works out there, and I hope that, as readers, we take the time to digest those as well as our favorites. Let's prove Mr. Wiesel wrong on this count, shall we?

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