To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.
The question of how feeble language becomes in the face of atrocity is addressed from the outset of Elie Wiesel’s courageous memoir of the Holocaust. I was only able to read certain passages in Elie’s memoir if I first convinced myself that the events depicted were fictional; it’s impossible to accept that acts of such senseless destruction truly did occur – but distancing ourselves from these stories won’t make them any less true. If reading Elie’s memoir was unsettling, I can’t imagine how intensely challenging the effort of sharing these experiences must have been for the author. How can everyday words be applied to an experience born out of the worst excesses of human cruelty?
In placing his tumultuous experiences onto paper, Elie found language itself to be an inadequate medium. Words that would usually describe normal aspects of the human experience, such as ‘hunger’ or ‘transport’, were, Elie suggests, ‘betrayed and perverted by the enemy’. The experience of atrocity has altered the fabric of language itself. The death-knell shadow of the chimney loomed day and night over the teenage Elie as he suffered in Auschwitz; as death was the only constant feature of Elie’s reality, ‘chimney’ became the only word which described something tangible. I like to think, however, that by presenting his memoir to the world Elie Wiesel has firmly reclaimed the words that were bastardized in the concentration camps of World War Two.
Night is not only a memoir of a monumentally devastating epoch in world history, but an indispensable human document, one that we should never lose sight of. Elie’s memoir evokes a true test of faith, not just of Elie’s own religious faith but the faith of both author and reader in humanity itself.