Night, a memoir by Elie Wiesel, is critical in the perception of human suffering, as it portrays the best and the worst of humsn nature in countless ways. In his autobiography, Wiesel describes his dreadful journey during the Holocaust, yet narrates how it increased his humanity, guided him closer to his father, and conclusively brought him into adulthood. There were innumerable physical and emotional constraints the Holocaust demanded he go through, including brute labor, starvation, and seeing his beloved family members pass away. During these experiences, Wiesel likewise had to observe those around him living in the extremes and doing whatever they could to cope with the unimaginable conditions encompassing them. Thus, the inhumane conditions of Nazi Germany birthed many acts that were both wholeheartedly selfless and selfish. Regardless, through all of this adversity and altruism, Wiesel discovered that suffering is bitter, but its fruits are sweet.
Wiesel’s memoir chronicles his time spent in concentration camps, and by doing so, exposes the sinister side of the human spirit: its compliance to harm others in order for self-preservation. Due to the despairing junctures of Nazi Germany, family and friends no longer carried any significance to Jewish people anymore. It had grown to be every man for himself. While the Germans were transferring the Jewish prisoners to a different campsite in concern of an imminent Russian attack, the “…train stopped at an empty field” and the SS gave mandates to “‘[t]hrow out all the dead”’ (Wiesel, 99).
Those that remained happened to be more than ready to cast out the deceased, and even grateful for the command, because in doing so, they would possess more room for themselves. Spontaneously, two gravediggers seized a departed Jew “…by the head and feet and threw him from the wagon, like a sack of flour” (Wiesel, 99). Due to the severity of their surroundings, all those in the wagon could think of was bettering their own situation. Not one person was thinking about the gravity of their callous actions towards those who had fallen along the journey.
Another illustration of a time when avarice overtook those in distress was the case concerning Rabbi Eliahu and his son in Buna. The Rabbi had been hunting continuously for his son after they had ‘“…lost sight of one another during the journey”’ (Wiesel, 91) to Gleiwitz. The Rabbi declared that he ‘“…didn’t have the strength run anymore”’ and that his ‘“…son didn’t notice”’ (Wiesel, 91) when they were separated during the march. However, Wiesel recollects that the Rabbi’s son did certainly see his father fall behind, only he determined to go on without him and had “thought… to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own chance for survival” (Wiesel, 91). Rabbi Eliahu was desperately looking for his son, whereas his son found his father to be a strain to his own endurance, and decided to slip away while he had the chance. In turmoil and extraordinary tension, Rabbi Eliahu’s son abandoned the only person in Buna who had his back, and put his father’s life in jeopardy in order to be at the front of the pack.
Finally, in the closing chapters of Night, when the Jews were being relocated to Buchenwald, a horrific scene is presented where a son violates his bond with his father and murders him on the train, just for a meager crust of bread. During the slaughter, the boy’s father screams out in horror, ‘“Meir, my little Meir! Don’t you recognize me …you’re killing your father …I have bread …for you too …for you too …”’ (Wiesel, 101). This young boy proves just how far a person will go to improve his or her own chances of survival, even if that means mauling another human being for a slice of bread.
The horrible circumstances that the Jews experienced led to the madness and savagery of man. Elie Wiesel and his memoir Night illuminate the hardships that Jewish people had to bear throughout the corrupt and disastrous period which has come to be known as World War I. The Jews of this time period were dealt with terrible cards, one of which was living in a narrow community ruled by the Germans. With this, the Jews began to recognize how unfair life can be, as they witnessed what was once a loving community quickly turn to selfishness and savagery for self-preservation.
On the other side of the extreme, however, in times of utter despondency, the most selfless acts of compassion are born. Many hospitable acts during the Holocaust showed that beauty can blossom out of bigotry. One instance in the memoir Night occurred when a new list of prisoners had been selected for the crematorium; Elie’s father being one of them. Elie’s father hurriedly tried to convey to his son how much he loved and cared for him before he is whisked away to his death. As he is saying this goodbye, he tells Elie to “…take [his] knife… [and] spoon” (Wiesel 75).
These pieces of cutlery were all Mr. Wiesel had left to his name, and in the last few moments before what he presumed to be his death, he stepped aside and bequeathed them to his son. This exemplifies that the bond shared between Eliezer and his father could not be broken by the circumstances around them, as when Mr. Wiesel gifts the knife and spoon to Eliezer, he also gifts all of the hard work and love those utensils carried with them.
In another scenario, Wiesel met a French girl who toiled beside him in the warehouse. She was a forced labor inmate and appeared to not understand or speak German. One day, Idek (who the head of Wiesel’s work camp) took his rage out on Wiesel and continuously lashed him. Later, the French girl slid him bread and told him, in excellent German, to keep his hatred bottled up and to “bite [his] lips” (Wiesel 53). She let him know that deliverance would come soon if they waited patiently enough. Years later, he saw her alive and well in Paris, and the two spend the night reminiscing. The French girl displayed the goodness that can emerge from despair through her friendship and humanity. She could have chosen to disregard Elie for worry of getting punished, or for the fear of being caught talking about liberation. But instead, she chose to create a sense of friendship in the dark times they were facing together.
Lastly, a relative named Stein was searching for Eliezer and his father after they had been in Auschwitz for roughly a week. Stein was hoping to hear information about his wife and children. Throughout the progression of their time in Auschwitz, he continued to visit occasionally, and he oftentimes brought some of his own food ration for Eliezer. He told them that the key to survival is to stay healthy and avoid ‘selection.’ He also instructed the two that by “…driving out despair…”, they “…shall all see the day of liberation.” (Wiesel 41). In Auschwitz, most men fend for themselves and themselves only, so it is absurd and almost impossible to imagine giving up your ration and time for some distant relative. Stein, however, has not lost hope and continues to do what he can to provide for those around him, instilling in them the hope to carry on in a place such as Auschwitz. Nazi Germany was a tumultuous time, saturated with violent acts done against innocents. Yet, it is in these times that such hidden reserves of tolerance slowly came to the surface.