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Elie Wiesel witnessed the most ghastly horrors in human history, and survived to write about them. That is no small feat. As the reader absorbs Wiesel's thoughts and memories, however, in his memoir Night, one is quickly introduced into precisely the kind of environment in which one's perceptions of humanity can be permanently transformed from one of brotherhood to one of vengeful hate. What Wiesel observed, and experienced, had an indelible impact on this perceptive young man, and wrought within him feelings that would take many years to resolve. Early in his and his father's time in one of the numerous concentration camps maintained by the Germans for the sole purpose of exterminating Jews and others deemed unworthy, while working to death those deemed fit to serve the interests of the Third Reich, young Elie finally reached a breaking point upon listening to his fellow Jews praying to God while hoping for the rescue by the outside world. In the following passage, Wiesel describes his father's lament and his own break with religion:
"The world? The world is not interested in us. Today, everything is possible, even the crematoria…His voice broke.
"Father," I said. "If that is true, then I don't want to wait. I'll run into the electrified barbed wire. That would be easier than a slow death in the flames."
He didn't answer. He was weeping. His body was shaking. Everybody around us was weeping. Someone began to recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. I don't know whether, during the history of the Jewish people, men have ever before recited Kaddish for themselves. "Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba…May His name be celebrated and sanctified…" whispered my father. For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. 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?"
The dehumanizing conditions under which the prisoners were held by the Germans and their East European allies (virulently racist fascist sympathizers in the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine, and other regions of German-occupied Europe), could not help but influence the youthful Wiesel. As Night progresses, however, Wiesel's cynicism graduates from a rejection of religion to a resentment of all those around him, including his increasingly frail and father:
"I was putting one foot in front of the other, like a machine. I was dragging this emaciated body that was still such a weight. If only I could have shed it! Though I tried to put it out of my mind, I couldn't help thinking that there were two of us: my body and I. And I hated that body."
What the author describes in the above passage is precisely the transformative effects of so much brutality and hatred on the average human being, let alone one as obviously perceptive as Wiesel. As Wiesel witnesses yet another of his fellow Jewish prisoners drop from weakness, presumably destined to die unattended, he soon forgets this unfortunate person, and his mind turns away from this victim towards his own ordeal. He has ceased to care about others because all of his inner strength is necessary for his own survival. He has been reduced to viewing other people through the prism of a trapped animal, and has shed the final vestiges of his own humanity. The world, he has observed, does not care about him, or about Jews in general; so why should he care about the world? It is a measure of Wiesel's greatness as a human being that he not only persevered and survived, but that he was able to ultimately rise above his circumstances and become a living symbol of humanity at its finest.
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