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.