"You must become so free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." -Albert Camus
I was going to write a review about this book, but then I ended up writing a discussion post for it in my Religion class and thought I would share. Because, in truth, when it comes to how this book affected me emotionally, it's no surprise that I cried multiple times, that I had to set the book down and walk away, that I couldn't believe it. I've been to Auschwitz. I took a four hour tour and learned things that still bother me to this day. I have seen the place where Hell took place. And yet I still can't believe it.
I think no matter how much you read, no matter how much you hear, no matter how much you see... you can't truly understand something unless you're a part of it. However, I will never stop trying. I believe that it is a dark stain on human history and we all lost something in those moments. The world will not forget their suffering. This book is one step on the path of retaining their memories.
Some context for the essay: I am arguing against Leo Tolstoy's "A Confession", which states that God is the sole reason for morality and the only reason to remain living.
Please understand that this is for the sake of academia and do not necessarily reflect my personal views.
"In Elie Wiesel’s Night, a common theme that is reiterated throughout the text is the narrator’s loss of faith. As he says himself, “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes” (Wiesel, 34). For the narrator, his faith is not only lost, his God has been killed. With this death of God, the Elie no longer has the large, all-encompassing meaning for life that he had previously.
Before the Holocaust, the author frequently mentions how diligent a student he was: “By day I studied Talmund and by night I would run to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple” (Wiesel, 3). His world revolves around the revealing of his God through mystical studies and traditional studies. The loss of this faith is a deep wound to the narrator, but he does not lose his reason for living, as Leo Tolstoy’s “A Confession” suggests he would. He simply finds new reasons to live.
Leo Tolstoy believes that without God, live would not have meaning. He is even as bold to say, “God is life” (Tolstoy, 70). Without God, the other concepts that he believes to be important in life – family, art and poetry – all lose their value because of “death which destroys all things” (Tolstoy, 66). The only concept that cannot be killed by death is God. According to Tolstoy, because God is greater than death, this means that He is the reason for living because “the inevitability of sickness, old age, and death, which today or tomorrow will destroy all of these pleasures” (Tolstoy, 67).
Tolstoy, however, did not live through the Holocaust. When Wiesel lost his faith in God, he began to focus all of his attention on his father. No matter how much the older man fell behind, the narrator was with him every step of the way. When his father was dying of dysentery, he fed him his rations rather than take the rations of a dying man, even though it would have been more logical. It is not God’s death that steals meaning from Wiesel’s life as Tolstoy thought it would, it is something different: “Since my father’s death, nothing mattered to me anymore” (Wiesel, 113). The concept of family, which Tolstoy had written off as irrelevant because death steals it away, is what finally makes Wiesel lose his meaning in life.
Tolstoy returns to “a belief in God, in moral perfection, and in a tradition transmitting the meaning of life” and realizes “without it I could not live” (Tolstoy, 70). Wiesel, on the other hand, realizes that he cannot believe in God and finds meaning in his father, proving that life without God can still be meaningful."