Jun 2, 2020 in Analysis


The Holocaust is one of the greatest tragedies of the world history and one of the most horrible crimes against humanity. The constant persecution of Jews realized by the German Nazis and their satellites, which lasted until the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, influenced many phenomena of today’s culture and, in fact, partly determined certain important tendencies of modern social and political reality. The Holocaust demonstrated that even in the middle of the 20th century, people are able to commit crimes as barbarian and savage as those of early times. Thus, the new understanding of humanity and the role of the collective memory appeared, causing the frequency of research in this field. The collective traumatic experience connected with mass exterminations and imprisonments in concentration camps became an important lesson for today’s people. One of the most profound descriptions of those events is the autobiographical book Night by Elie Wiesel that tells about the psychological transformations of an average Jewish boy who experiences the cruelties of the Holocaust. The issues described and discussed in the book demonstrate the hidden dimensions of human beings who may either lose their humanity in mass cruelties or save their personality from negative influences.

The symbolism of the book as well as its inner message begins with its title. ‘Night’ in the context of the narrative may have many different interpretations. It is clear that the most adequate one concerns the symbolic representation of the Holocaust cruelties and crimes by the night darkness that may contain and cover different hidden dangers. The Holocaust became such a symbolic night for the millions of Jews who lost their former lives and became persecuted prisoners and victims of the criminal regime. At the same time, the symbolism of night may also have a personal meaning for the main character whose worldview became obscured by the hardships of the epoch. At the very beginning of the text, the narrator says: “By day I studied Talmud and by night I would run to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple”. Such was the way of life of the boy before the beginning of the Holocaust. Later on, after he had witnessed the numerous crimes and deaths, especially the deaths of the Jewish children, killed by the Nazis without any compassion, he changed his views concerning God and religion. Despite all the cruelties, God helped neither Eliezer nor his sisters and mother. “Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?”. This change in Eliezer’s worldview means that the symbolic sun of his faith set down, and the night of doubts and desperation came forth. These interpretations of the book’s title, both collective or and personal, demonstrate the main issues the author described in his narration.


Thus, through the symbolic night, Eliezer became more experienced as well as mentally and spiritually strong. It is very important that he preserved faith despite his doubts because of the authority of his father who did not betray his religion and prayed to God as before. In this way, Eliezer’s understanding of the situation became deeper, and at the end of the book, he turned into a spiritually mature person whose understanding of reality excludes illusions. While at the beginning he wanted to learn the spiritual practices of the Jews, at the end of the narration he achieved the extremity of realism because all of his desires were to survive and become free from imprisonment. The spiritual and mental growth of the main character are two different sides of the same transformational process of his personality. Thus, the mental transformations are represented in Eliezer’s reaction on the situation around him. In the very beginning of the narration, he perceives the reality with a childish naiveté and his reactions are vivacious, but after the temptations of the concentration camp, he becomes more alienated from the world, and the center of his attention becomes in himself. It is important that according to Williams such reaction on Holocaust is very common. The same concerns the spiritual growth of Eliezer: instead of his paternalistic belief in God comes the deep understanding of the world with its dangers and possible difficulties everyone has to resolve personally. In this way, Eliezer's mental and spiritual transformations appeared to be the direct result of the hardships he went through.

The shocking crimes of the Nazis considerably influenced the development of the humanity because people understood that the concept of humanity needed reframing. Thus, there appeared an influential tendency in the whole world and Europe in particular oriented at the preservation and reinterpretation of the collective memory connected with the traumatic experience, which involved wide masses of people. As Reynolds claims, today’s memory policy is very important for the prevention of the same crimes in the future, that is why it is necessary to  learn about the Holocaust and other crimes of the past. At the same time, such scholars as Bauman and Donskis consider today’s attention to the traumatic experience exaggerated and fear the decrease of public moral sensitivity. Thus, as Bauman and Donskis claim, “Victimhood, as a mode of discourse and as a frame of meaning within a historical narrative, does not necessarily become a path to our sympathetic understanding of others, human compassion and a sense of belonging”. Both approaches, regardless of their further implementation, demonstrate that the Holocaust presupposed the appearance of a huge segment of today’s culture, especially in the sphere of humanities. The same is true of art influenced by the Holocaust. There were many writers who created their texts during the Holocaust, author of Night included. Those are, for example, Merdecai Gebirtig, the author of It’s Burning, Hirsh Glick, who wrote Song of the Partisans in a concentration camp, Isaiah Spiegel who published his short stories written during the Holocaust after the breakdown of the Nazis, and others. The Holocaust presupposed the inevitable gloom spirit of prose and art in general, but, at the same time, some texts of that time (such as Song of the Partisans, for example) inspired people to fight against the Nazis’ terror. Thus, there appeared different implications of the Holocaust experience, and some of them worked contrary to the Nazis’ plans because the oppression made the Jews stronger and required their active opposition to the evil.

Wiesel's narration, in particular the scene where the main character renounces God, demonstrates the turning point in the narrator’s destiny. He was a very pious person before the Holocaust, and the rethinking of his religious views testifies to profound transformations in his personality. Certainly, this scene has two dimensions: along with the main characters' doubts concerning God, the author shows the doubts of all Jewish people who suffered from the hardships and desperation brought by the Nazis’ dominance. At the same time, this scene plays a key role not only in the description of the author’s perception of the Holocaust but also in the book’s plot because it introduces the conflict between the main character’s religious piety and the reality, which poorly corresponds to his beliefs. 

Thus, Wiesel's book is deeply psychological in respect to the Holocaust’s victims. It demonstrates several dimensions of that period, such as the general social context, the relationships between the persecuted Jews and the differences between them as well as the barbarian spirit of the Nazis. Written by the witness of those events, the text reflects personal experience instead of abstract description of historical events.


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