Elie states that his book, Night, was not well-received after it was first published, since many thought that it was “senseless to burden our children with the tragedies of the Jewish past.” How do you feel about this statement and the prospect of reading this book?

Expert Answers

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I think it is important to note that the first version of this book was published in 1956. This is barely a decade after WW2 had ended. I think it is easy for us (today) to be appalled by the original reaction to this story because modernly, we are living in a time when we are exposed to almost everything we can possibly be allowed to know, and that exposure is historically faster than it has ever been because of the media and the Internet.

Of course I immediately and inherently disagree with the idea that it is "senseless to burden our children" with anything that is factual and historical. Knowledge and truth should never be considered a burden. However, I also understand that there was certainly a time in human history that ignorance was considered bliss. I don't agree with the statement, but I do understand where it came from. In the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy, most adults weren't sure what to do or think as they came to know the truth. Certainly, the first reaction stemmed from a strong element of fear.

All of that said, I read and taught Night for a number of years to sophomores in high school. I read the book first, myself, when I was well into my 20s, and it was very difficult for me the first time. I dealt with an element of fear and intimidation at tackling such a difficult theme (The Holocaust) when it was something I was still very new to understanding myself.

After just two semesters however, I really began to see the value in studying the book. I began to realize the value in fully exposing the truths of The Holocaust. Though it didn't become less emotional, I became more empowered by the truth, and my students rose to the level of maturity the subject requires. For me, Night was one of the best books I ever taught. I think that even young sophomores (15 and 16 years old) were able to appreciate the humanity in the face of brutality presented in that book.

This lead to natural discussion and application of ideas in our own lives. I'm not sure I witnessed anyone making a pledge to live life differently as a result of reading the book, but I do feel that the interest level was very high and my students took the study much more seriously than other books that year. They were able to think and discuss ideas that were personal, real, and applicable.

So, to me, the prospect of reading (and teaching) this book is very positive. My instinct even would go so far as to say that this book is a "must read" for everyone at some point in life.

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