What events in our world today do you perceive as relevant to the atrocities conveyed in Elie Wiesel's book Night?
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To me, the atrocities of the Holocaust remain relevant today because we human beings have not gotten over the urge to kill other people because they are not like us. We can, sadly, still see cases of genocide or ethnic cleansing all over the world. The only consolation is that these have been on a much smaller scale than the Holocaust.
I suppose the most obvious examples recently have been the genocide in Rwanda back in the 1990s, the conflict in Darfur that still continues, the tribal violence from the Kenyan elections a few years ago, and the ethnic cleansing that went with the break up of what had been Yugoslavia, also in the '90s.
Last summer I attended several symposiums on genocide in our world. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. has been active in helping make public the plight of the people from Dafur. Since Wiesel’s release of his book "Night" genocide has taken place in Bosnia, Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 with over 200,000 deaths having occurred and in Rwanda in 1994 with over 800,000 deaths.
The government of today has been met with many challenges in regards to helping other nations. The United Nations as well as the Pope has been called upon to help prevent further deaths from occurring in Dafur. Some critiques question if the situation actually is as dangerous as they say for Dafur's minority groups, but the warning signs are present.
Did we actually learn anything from Wiesel’s novel "Night?" I believe we have, but we are still spread thin as a nation and have difficulty determining how to disperse our resources of money and manpower. In the end no matter what we like to think, humans become narrowed down to resources.
I think that one of the most compelling elements that lies within Wiesel's work is that is speaks of both public and private forms of cruelty. Certainly, the ongoing conditions of genocide in parts of Africa speak to this loudly. Yet, Wiesel's work helps to conceive of terror and cruelty on private levels. When Eliezer or his father are beaten, when children abandon their parents, and when individuals silence others on the smallest of level, the reader is reminded that the political act of genocide starts from the smallest of individual transgressions upon one another. When Wiesel says that "silence emboldens the aggressor," this is a statement and belief applicable on all levels. When a child is abused, when a spouse is mistreated, when someone is violated, and when someone remains silent in the face of another's cries of suffering, Wiesel's work speaks loudly to this. In the final analysis, this becomes the most relevant component of his work.
The atrocities in the novel Night can be paralleled with more modern events on a number of levels.
On a large scale, the atrocities from the novel are comparable to the ethnic cleansing and genocide that has occurred in the Baltic states such as Albania, Serbia, and Bosnia during the Baltic War. Many families fled to the US to escape this and ironically enough, some of them even escape via Germany. But often the ability or desire to flee was directly related to the socio-economic status or religious preference of the family.
On a smaller scale, the lack of timely support and aid to the victims of Katrina was viewed by some as a type of holocaust based on race and economic stature in America. People of New Orleans felt forsaken by the American government similarly to how the Jews felt forsaken by the world.
Most recently the mass graves of Haiti, for me, were remeniscent of the mass unmarked graves of the holocaust victims. The limited medical aid, the lack of basic necessities, as well as the separation of families could also be viewed as similarities.
In his speech "The Perils of Indifference," Weisel states that "the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference". It is when we, as human beings, look directly at the suffering of another human being and then turn away from it, doing nothing, allowing the tragedy to continue without helping.
Using this idea, you can compare the core element of Night to global and local events: Rwanda, Serbs/Kurds, Hussein's treatment of Kurds in Iraq. You can also focus on smaller scale disgraces: anyone that knows about someone's abuse, but does not help; anyone that has the means and the ability to help, but chooses not to; anyone that knows about crimes or illegalities, but does not speak up.
With regard to the big picture, genocide (much of it government sanctioned) still exists. To roughly paraphrase something this remarkable man once said, “Who am I to think my suffering was any more than someone else suffering a devastating tragedy.” Human tragedy and suffering takes place in every country, in every state, in every city all over the world. So the children of alcoholics, victims of abuse, political prisoners, rape victims, and so on, would all be considered by Wiesel as relevant to his tale.
Unfortunately, genocide is not an isolated event, and the systematic kind of genocide that occurred during the Holocaust and in this novel have occurred again and again in places like Cambodia and Bosnia.
So there are lessons to be gained from reading Nightand studying the Holocaust, so that we can recognize the pattern when it begins, and try to stop or interrupt it before another humanitarian tragedy unfolds. Unfortunately, we're still not very good at doing so when it counts.
Rather depressingly, our history shows that the message of Night has not been heard as we continue to oppress and exterminate one another. Our history, unfortunately, seems to be one long litany of smaller scale "holocausts" which are nonetheless equally significant in terms of how humanity is capable of dehumanising and demeaning other groups. I echo other editors in highlighting Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Sudan as recent examples. We still stand in the shadow of such atrocities and unfortunately the term "ethnic cleansing" is one that has entered the public consciousness - a chilling euphemism for the slaughter that has been carried out.
Time and time again, we discover a new depth of inhumanity in the world. It may look better or be more sanitized (in other words, we aren't necessarily shoveling people into furnaces) but the principle of letting the worst in us win out over the best in us runs rampant. I'm with many of my fellow editors who see things like abuse and rape and other social ills as being personal microcosms of the larger principles Wiesel was descrying.
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