about the author:
Eliezar Wiesel was born in 1928 in the small Hungarian town of Sighet, in what is now Romania. Like so many children of his time, Elie began religious studies at an early age and spent his childhood studying Judaism, particularly enjoying learning about Jewish mystical lore and Hasidic folktales. his father encouraged him to also study modern Hebrew and secular subjects. During this time, Elie developed a strong belief in God and a deep connection to the Jewish people. At fifteen, his faith was shaken when his entire town was deported to Nazi concentration camps. in auschwitz, elie was separated from his mother and three of his sisters; only his two older sisters would survive. elie stayed with his father for a year, fighting to survive in the auschwitz, buna, buchenwald and gleiwitz camps. With only a few months of war remaining, Elie’s father succumbed to the ravages of famine and disease. After the release, Elie was taken to a French orphanage with hundreds of other children. As a young man, Wiesel studied at the Sorbonne, became a journalist in Paris, and spent years writing for French and Israeli newspapers. although his experiences of the holocaust were always with him, it took elie ten years to write about them. as he put it, “I wanted to be sure that the words he was going to use about this event were the right words.” Since then, he has written more than thirty-six books dealing with topics such as the Holocaust, Judaism, and the moral responsibility to fight hate, racism, and genocide. his devotion to this agenda has influenced countless people around the world. Because of this dedication, Elie Wiesel has received many honors and accolades. he was named president of the united states holocaust memorial council; His awards include the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1986, Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize. Wiesel is a prolific speaker, speaking on behalf of the many groups who suffer persecution and death because of their religion, race, or national origin. he has been a visiting professor at many universities and serves as andrew w. Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University. In 1986, Wiesel and his wife, Marion, established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity to advance the cause of human rights by creating forums for discussion and resolution of pressing ethical issues. Wiesel and his wife still collaborate on books: he writes in French and she translates into English.
about the book:
the night is the quintessential holocaust story. Told from the perspective of a teenager, Wiesel shares his story of his time under the Nazi regime. Beginning in his small town and then in four different concentration and extermination camps, Eliezer shares his experience as a religious Jewish boy whose faith in God and humanity was tested as he struggled to survive the constant hunger, despair, and terror of the holocaust. Through his haunting words, Wiesel takes the reader into a world few can imagine. Catholic writer and fellow Nobel Prize winner Francois Mauriac finally allowed Wiesel to write his first book in the mid-1950s. After listening to Mauriac talk incessantly about the suffering of Jesus, Wiesel told his friend: “ Ten years or so ago, I have seen children, hundreds of Jewish children, who suffered more than Jesus did on his cross and we don’t talk about it.” Mauriac responded, “you know, maybe you should talk about it.” it was at that moment that elie wiesel recognized, “to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…” he later noted that this memoir “was impossible to write, but impossible not to write”. night began as a 900-page work written in Yiddish. Even translated into French and abridged to 127 pages, Wiesel had difficulty finding a publisher. “The Holocaust was not something people wanted to know about in those days,” Wiesel reported in an interview with Time magazine. “the diary of anne frank was as far as anyone wanted to venture into the dark”. since then, the night has been translated into thirty languages and sold more than five million copies. Some of the proceeds from these books go to support a yeshiva in Israel that Wiesel established in memory of his father. This new 2006 edition includes an introduction with Wiesel’s reflections on the experience of writing and living with the night and the text of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, offering insight into his passion and life’s work. . Just as important, this edition is a new English translation, one closer to the intent of the original Yiddish work. With his wife Marion de Él as translator, Wiesel was able to not only correct some important details, but also capture more of the sense of pain, confusion, and despair he felt during this time. In this new translation, the reader understands why La Noche became what many consider the best of all his writings: the voice of those who survived and those who perished in the nightmare that was the Holocaust.
me. the purpose and reasons for telling the story
- in his preface, elie wiesel talks about the importance of writing this book for his own life. but she then asks the question: “why did I write it?” she goes on to reply that her life’s purpose has been to be a witness, that she has “a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.” why you and others should read this book? What role do you play in the obligation to give testimony?
- Wiesel talks about his concern that the number of survivors is dwindling, that their memories will be lost. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he recounts that the adolescent protagonist of the night asks him what he has done with his life. his response: “I have tried to keep memory alive, I have tried to fight against those who forget. because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices” (p. 118). How can we make sure those memories continue to be heard for this generation and for generations to come?
- Wiesel teaches, “When we talk about this age of evil and darkness, so close and so distant, ‘responsibility’ is the key word.” his responsibility is to work for a world that never forgets and to learn that acts of limitless evil are repeated. what is your responsibility in response to the holocaust?
- wiesel asks a question that many others have also asked: “how is it possible that men, women and children were burned and the world was silent?” how do you answer that question have things changed today? How can we express our protests effectively in light of the genocides and persecution of peoples taking place around the world?
- At the end of the night, Elie looks in the mirror and sees himself as a corpse. His last words: “The look in his eyes as he looked at me has never left me.”
- what do you think their eyes were saying? how should we continue to see the story that was in the eyes of that lost child?
- in the Yiddish version of the night, wiesel begins with these words: “in the beginning there was faith, which is childish; trust–which is vain; and illusion, which is dangerous. we believed in god, we trust in man and live in the illusion that each of us has been entrusted with a sacred spark of the shechina flame; that each one of us carries in his eyes and in his soul a reflection of the image of God. that was the source, if not the cause, of all our tests.” How do we understand, more than sixty years later, these words? Is it still dangerous to have faith and trust, or is the present a time when it is safe to believe in these values?
- francois mauriac said in his introduction to the night that the worst of all holocaust abominations was “the death of god in the soul of a child suddenly faced with absolute evil” (page xix). do you agree? do you think, for elie wiesel, god really died? Mauriac decided that all he could do for his friend was hold him and cry. what do you think you could (or should) do in response to some survivors feeling that god is dead? How do you answer the question about the role of God in the face of the reality of the Holocaust?
- at one point elie says of god: “I was not denying his existence but I doubted his absolute justice” (page 45). how do you react to this statement? for elie, is this the death of god or a change in his relationship with god? Later, during the hanging of a beloved concentration camp inmate, someone asked, “’For God’s sake, where is God?’ Elie’s response from within her spoke: ‘Where is he? this is where – hanging here from this gallows…’” what image of god does elie have during this moment?
- in his nobel peace prize acceptance speech, wiesel began by reciting the shehecheyanu prayer and spoke specifically about his faith (page 120).
- How do you think his faith was restored? How have you demonstrated that faith throughout your adult life?
- Wiesel talks several times about miracles. he feels that maybe a miracle happens every time his father passes another selection (page 76). and yet, in introducing him, he admits that he can’t believe it’s a miracle that he survived the holocaust. “a miracle? certainly not. if heaven could or would do a miracle for me, why not for others who deserve it more than me?” (page viii) How do you feel about miracles? Do you feel that some events that can be seen as miracles are simply coincidental or performed for a certain purpose?
- Elie isn’t sure if he’ll ever forgive himself or the world for having to become the man he became because of his ordeal. forgiveness, however, is one of the cornerstones of holy days, forgiveness of others and forgiveness of ourselves. Do you think he will be able to forgive himself or the world? How can you overcome this despair?
- “The older men pleaded with their sons: ‘We must not lose hope, even now that the sword hangs over our heads. thus our wise men taught it…’” (page 31).
- do you think elie ever gave up hope? how do you think elie wiesel found the ability to hope again?
iii. miracles, forgiveness and hope
and the lie wiesel foundationandad vashem survival in auschwitz. primo levi, touchstone press, 1999 telling the story: a tribute to elie wiesel on the occasion of her 65th birthday – essays, reflections and poems by elie wiesel, harry james loads (editor). Time Being Books, 1993. Rabbi Rachel Rembrandt was ordained at Huc-Jir, Cincinnati in 1994.