Night by Elie Wiesel Describes How Holocaust Survivors Lost Their Identities

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During the Holocaust, not only were many lives lost, but also countless souls. Even those who managed to survive camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald were profoundly transformed, often for the worse. While individuals like Elie Wiesel were able to make meaningful contributions and ensure the memory of Holocaust victims lived on, many survivors emerged mere fragments of their former selves. The experience of living in concentration camps had changed them drastically, causing a profound loss of dignity and identity.

The novel Night explores a significant issue: the characters within it endure horrifying experiences at the concentration camps where they are imprisoned. Consequently, they undergo a loss of hope, dignity, and identity, undergoing a thoroughly dehumanizing ordeal.

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In Night, Michael Moore’s poignant words reflect tragically accurate. He once stated, “The unfortunate thing about us humans is that once abused, some of us seek to abuse others…Sometimes people just go crazy from too much abuse and violence and take drastic, irrational measures to protect themselves.” It is disheartening that in the midst of all the other horrors they endure, the prisoners of the concentration camp have to face betrayal from their fellow inmates. This betrayal is evident in instances such as the foreman coercing Elie into surrendering his gold tooth (53) and a son murdering his father for a fragment of bread (96).

Elie works at a place where a young man named Franek is the foreman. One day, Franek shocks Elie by demanding his tooth and saying, “Give me your crown, kid.” Elie describes Franek as usually a sympathetic and intelligent youth. However, like many others in the camp, Franek is no longer himself. Before arriving at the camp, Franek was likely a kind and reasonable person as he was a student. However, the harsh realities of the concentration camp, such as endless labor, abusive guards, and random killings, have drastically changed him. Now, he is forcing a young boy to hand over his tooth.

During a scene in Night, the prisoners are being transported through a German township in wagons, packed tightly together like cattle. Bored German workers toss bread at them. The arrival of the bread sparks an immediate frenzy among the prisoners, who fight desperately for even a few crumbs, resembling ducks scrambling over a pond. Elie, an eyewitness to this horrific spectacle, notices an old man crawling away from the chaotic struggle with his hand clutching his chest. Initially, Elie assumes the man has been injured in the chest, but soon realizes that he has managed to grab some bread. A younger man approaches the old man and ruthlessly starts attacking him. In anguish, the old man cries out, calling the younger man “Meir” and pleading for recognition, stating that he is his own father. The heartbreaking scene continues with the old man begging his son to stop hurting him and tragically reveals that the son ultimately kills his own father in order to seize the bread.

Unfortunately, the others have noticed and pounced on him, resulting in his untimely death. This is a deeply sorrowful moment within the book. Elie, a mere fifteen-year-old, finds himself bewildered by the actions of those older and supposedly wiser than him. A poignant scene unfolds before him as a man is brutally slain by his own child over a mere morsel of food. Has the treatment of prisoners been so atrocious that it has come to this? Evidently so. Not only have these individuals lost their homes, possessions, and sense of self, but now their capacity for empathy and self-respect has also diminished. They have regressed into animalistic beings.

The Nazis are the ones who have truly lost their sense of humanity. Nothing is less human than their lack of sympathy for the Jews whom they mercilessly tormented. Their mindless killings and indifferent attitude toward the Jews are so horrifying that people around the world, even after sixty years, still struggle to comprehend it. How could anyone harbor such intense animosity towards their fellow human beings? Although unanswered, this question rightfully positions the Nazis as the most inhumane group in world history.

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Night by Elie Wiesel Describes How Holocaust Survivors Lost Their Identities. (2022, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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