In Night, how is Elie Wiesel a kind of prophet himself?  How does he sees the work of his memoir as similar to a smoke signal or warning?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one of the first elements to establish is that Wiesel might not openly embrace his capacity as a prophet.  The prophet is fully aware of what is articulated, even if others do not.  The prophet, if nothing else, is self- assured. I think that Wiesel struggles to understand.  Night is an exploration of the capacity for human evil and suffering.  Wiesel does not seek to answer any of the issues definitively.  The opening of Moshe the Beadle and his rejection from his own people, to Rabbi Eliahu's son who abandons his father, to the ending image in which Eliezer is unable to recognize the figure staring back at him. These realities are elements of questioning, wondering how and why, more than affirming any other vision. Madame Schachter's beating, the little pipel's hanging, and forgetting Akiba Drumer's final wish of reciting the Khaddish are reflections of questions and uncertainties more than prophecies.  The closing words of the narrative do not speak to a prophet: "From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me."  There seems to be more in way of questioning and asking the questions, something reflective of Moshe's understanding of spirituality where he asks God the strength to ask the questions.  The prophet seeks to provide answers.  Wiesel seeks to illuminate more questions.  

I do think that Wiesel sees his work as a warning to the future.  Wiesel said as much in receiving the Nobel Prize:  

It frightens me because I wonder: do I have the right to represent the multitudes who have perished? Do I have the right to accept this great honor on their behalf? ... I do not. That would be presumptuous. No one may speak for the dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions.

I think that Wiesel understands that his work stands as a warning to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive:

And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.

For Wiesel, the writing of Night and his continued advocacy of speaking out against brutality and genocide arising from his experiences in the Holocaust is to serve as a smoke signal for the future.  In a speech entitled "The Perils of Indifference," Wiesel makes clear that his purpose of being was to speak out against a condition of silence and forgetfulness:  "In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman."  Wiesel would suggest that the writing of Night is an active statement against silencing voices.  It seeks to illuminate the questions around how the Holocaust could have happened and authenticate the experiences of those who must live with the Holocaust as part of their being in the world.  In being able to render such an experience, Wiesel suggests that this is the precise opposite of indifference because it demands that a side be taken.  In taking sides and asserting a stance, Wiesel's contribution to the dialogue is that the world never forget what happened.  This is where Wiesel would see his memoir as a warning.

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