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Elie Wiesel. Why do we read Night?.

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why do we read night
Why do we read Night?

“No one may speak for the dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions. And yet, I sense their presence. I always do - and at this moment more than ever. The presence of my parents, that of my little sister. The presence of my teachers, my friends, my companions...This honor belongs to all the survivors and their children and, through us to the Jewish people with whose destiny I have always identified.

I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed. I remember he asked his father: "Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”

And now the boy is turning to me. "Tell me," he asks, "what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?" And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”

Excerpt from Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1986:http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org/nobelprizespeech.aspx

author background
Author Background:
  • Born: 1928, Sighet, Transylvania (now Romania)
  • Only son, three sisters
  • Before Holocaust, studious and religious, focused on study of sacred Jewish texts
  • 1944, age 15, deported by Nazis (first in Auschwitz), family broken apart.
  • Elie and father stay together, but mother and younger sister died in Auschwitz, liberated in April, 1945.
  • Older sisters survive Holocaust.
  • http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org/eliewiesel.aspx

After war, Elie studied in Paris, journalist.

  • Wrote and published work, but initially refused to write about Holocaust until he began work on Night ten years after liberation
  • Moved to US in 1956, married fellow Holocaust survivor in 1969
  • Teacher at Boston University, Humanities
  • 1980, Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council
  • President of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, created by him and his wife to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice.
  • Novel Peace Prize in 1986 for activism
historical background brief
Historical Background: (brief!)
  • WWII 1939-1945, started with German aggression
  • Born out of conflicts after WWI—Germany “broken” government, economy, military, transportation system, etc.
  • Nazi (National Socialist German Workers Party)—originated late 1920s, led by Adolf Hitler after WWI.
  • Hitler was anti-Semitic (hated Jews), called them an inferior race (Jewish is not a race).
  • Promised to restore Germany, mainly blamed Jewish people (and others—Gypsies, people with handicaps, mental illness, homosexuals) for this broken state, asserting they were not true Germans.
  • Elected German Chancellor in 1933, first concentration camp opened soon after.
  • Employed Gestapo (secret police) in years leading to war to imprison Jews. Many began to flee the country.
  • 1941, Germany invaded Russia, first big push of war began. Need for supplies=concentration work camps.
  • Invasion, control, ghetto, deportation to concentration camps (cattle cars)
  • 1942: Hitler and allies developed “Final Solution” policy=extermination of Jews
by the end of wwii it is estimated that
By the end of WWII, it is estimated that:
  • 11 million people were killed at the hands of the Nazis under Hitler’s leadership and the quest for the eradication of those who were not “Aryan” (
  • Approximately 6 million of the victims were Jewish
  • Other groups were persecuted for their genetic “impurity” or due to cultural background. Additionally, certain groups were seen as undesirable due to their religious or political backgrounds. Some of these groups/individuals included:
    • Gypsies
    • Homosexuals
    • Those with mental illness or disability
    • Polish and other Slavs
    • Jehovah’s Witnesses
    • Dissenting clergy
    • Communists
    • Socialists
    • Political “enemies”

It’s important to note that other concentration camps existed in the Pacific Rim at the hands of the Japanese. Though less historical attention is paid to these victims, nearly 1 million, civilians living in these areas, and many prisoners of war perished during WWII in these work camps as well.