One of my most moving experiences while traveling happened in Germany, We visited one of the camps, and it was an awe-inspiring experience for all of us. One of the most disturbing aspects of the camp came to me after we walked out and were walking to another little museum building outside the gates. We were walking along a sidewalk right next to and running parallel to the fence. One my left, the fence and the camp beyond. On my right, behind tiny patches of green yard, houses. Homes where people lived today, and obviously there at the time of the tragedies in the camps. They had to have seen and heard and known. They had to have. Turn your back to the fence, and it looked like a quaint little row of houses. Instead, these were people who kept their silence. make of it what you will, but people did know and didn't speak.
No one wants to believe that humans are actually capable of being that cruel and evil. To think that humans are killing, torturing and burning other humans is so much to wrap your brain around.
I think it's also easy to avert your eyes when faced with such gruesome details. It's harder to stand up for what's right in the face of such a huge and awful tragedy. Where does one begin?
One person alone feels like they cannot make a difference. It's hard to think that when you witness evil that you can fix it and make it go away.
Also, it's human nature to try to survive, no matter the situation. People who saw the camp victims and did nothing were worried about what may happen to them if they spoke out. They didn't want to meet the same fate.
The political powers probably were aware of the death camps, but most of the world was shocked when the camps were liberated and the truth was revealed. In an interview with NPR today, Edgar Edelsack, a member of the US Army, said "U.S. soldiers had no idea of the existence of the camps. 'We were never informed about it, so coming in and seeing these emaciated people of skin and bones really hit a very resonant note in me.' He says he took photographs but gave them away years later because they upset him so much." (I've pasted a link to the full article below.)
Most people are inherently good, and it is hard to imagine that something like the Holocaust could actually happen. We know that war is horrible by itself, but such organized barbarity is almost impossible to accept.
The people who did know (for example, when Moishe escaped and came back to inform the Jews of what was happening) did not want to believe such an atrocity was happening. Who in their right minds want to admit that such evil is capable within the human race? It is inconceivable that anyone or any one group of people could be so cruel and unjust to another just because they are different.
Still today there are people who speak out against the story of the Holocaust as never really having happened. We know from survivors, photographs, salvaged records from Nazi camps, etc. that it did, indeed, happen. However, that does not prevent people from still attempting to deny it simply because of the enormity of evil to which we must face and perhaps attempt to make right.
You have to remember that Night is about World War II during 1939-1945 when technology and the media pale in comparison to the access that we have today. The public simply did not have access to information the way we do now. Germany was not quick to broadcast their conquests either so information was not easy to come by. You also have to remember that World War II came on the heels of World War I which needed in 1919. The world and the US in particular was not in any big hurry to be involved in another world war.
Elie and the Jews of Sighet heard stories, they even got first hand accounts from people like Moishe the Beadel, but without any firsthand experience they simply did not believe that these things could actually be happening in a civilized world. We are astounded that it took so long for the world to come around, but that is because we know the atrocities that were committed, we know now that people are capable of pure evil, but they simply could not fathom these things that were happening.
Such a difficult question. There is documented knowledge that world leaders knew well about the concentration camps in the early 1940s, but did nothing to call attention to them. Roosevelt and Churchill both were encouraging Palestinian authorities to accept Jewish refugees into their land. However, there was little to no publication of the facts.
A few reasons exist. For one, consider the time period. Many aspects of the war were kept quiet from the people. It wasn't until Vietnam, when the media had so much more control and influence, that up-to-date information about a war was shared with the people. Also, consider the situation. The camps were in German controlled Europe. Germany was continuing to advance across the continent. Until Germany was pushed back, nothing could be done about the camps itself.
Finally, consider the human inclination towards disbelief. In a modern era, it was impossible to believe that such atrocities were occurring. There are even people today still insistent that the Holocaust never happened. When something is so terrible, the shock will cause doubt and denial.