A Recommended Read Right Now: Eli Wiesel’s book, Night.

Recently I worked with one of my UCLA students on a paper centered on Elie Wiesel’s book, Night. This is Wiesel’s first-hand account of being forced to leave his home in Transylvania (along with his entire village) and relocate first to Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. The volume is slim but powerful. In only 115 pages, Wiesel brings into focus the horrific experiences that he and his fellow captives suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

In the preface of the 2006 edition (the original was published in 1958), he explains why he wrote this book. He writes, “I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer – or my life, period – would not have become what it is; that of a witness who believes he 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.” This is the first of over 40 books Wiesel has written, all with the common theme of speaking out against injustice. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his tireless efforts to help those who are oppressed.

In the wake of the horror that is occurring right now, Wiesel’s Night is a stark and poignant reminder of how important it is for all of us to speak out against the abuse of power. He states in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.” He stresses that we must never remain silent if we see suffering. That it is our job as moral human beings to address any abuse of human rights in order to help bring about change.

If you want a heart-wrenching look at the evil that can occur when power is left unchecked, then read Wiesel’s Night. This book could indeed serve as a present-day wake-up call for people all over the world to recognize the terrifying consequences of remaining indifferent to human suffering. It is our job in this life to look power, corruption, and abuse square in the face; not shy away from painful situations because they make us feel uncomfortable. Truth-telling is not easy but can shift the power differential over time. It is often the only real weapon we have at our disposal.

I highly recommend this book. It is simply, but poignantly written and carries a message that feels as pertinent today as it was back in 1958. This book emphasizes that none of us is immune from human suffering and we must stay ever vigilant to the oppressive nature of individuals and governments.

Otherwise, we might find ourselves forgetting what history has taught us, and, in so doing, condemn ourselves and others to a life of oppression. Speaking up is the first step towards change.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. judyalter says:

    thanks, Len, for a thought-provoking essay. I am reminded of course of the old adage that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. But more than that I am reminded of our moral obligation to speak out now, when some would succumb to a would-be dictator. They cry about freedom without understanding what it means, assuming it is individual freedom to do as you will and not recognizing obligations as part of a free country. Sometimes speaking out seems futile, but we must never give up. God bless.

    1. Thank you, Judy. Your words are so true.

  2. Teresa Lynn says:

    Night is one of the books I list as influential in my life, for the reasons you outline. I wrote a play based on it at one time, but we moved as the theater was discussing it. Would still love to do it.

    1. That play sounds like a worthy project! I’m glad that we agree on the value of this book. Thank you for sharing.

  3. nanr42 says:

    Thanks for this reminder of why we’re here. I’ve been struggling lately with figuring out what the point is. And with feeling helpless and furious about the blatant lies spewed by those at home trying to take over the country, as well as the invasion of Ukraine. (It’s so interesting to see how the Russian lies are the same as the Republican lies, and for the same purpose.) What you said is helpful and encouraging.

    1. Yes, it can be discouraging. I’m glad you found my words helpful. Eli Wiesel’s book is a testament to resilience and perspective. I am so grateful to have teachers like him to help guide us all. Thank you for reaching out and letting me know. Much appreciated.

  4. Mary Jo Doig says:

    A profoundly well written story from a man who was able to share his experience and wisdom. I read it many years ago, but need to re-read. It is so right for now. A wonderful post, Len! Thank you!

  5. Thank you, Mary Jo.

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