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BOOK REVIEW
Night
by Elie Wiesel
"Night" is a terrifyingly vivid memoir of suffering, persecution and unrelenting hatred. It is a powerfully written story that should never be forgotten and one that is sadly repeated with terrifying regularity in the world today.

"Night" is Elie Wiesel's haunting autobiographical account of the terror, horror and brutality he was forced to endure in some of the worst Nazi death camps (including Auschwitz and Buchenwald) towards the end of World War 2. This terrifying memoir of brutal persecution and unrelenting hatred stands as a stark and timeless reminder to past, present and future generations of how hate and evil were manifested during this time and how they infected a whole nation with their invidious poison and violence.

Elie Wiesel is introduced to us in 1941 as a 12 years old Jewish boy from Sighet, a small town in Transylvania, who "believed profoundly" in the faith of his fathers. It was at that time the poor and humble "barefoot of Sighet," Moshe the Beadle, started to teach the young Elie the secrets of the cabbala. One day Moshe the Beadle was, along with all the other foreign Jews, expelled from the town. Months later Moshe, having miraculously survived the massacre of those who were expelled with him, returned to Sighet to tell his tale. No one listened and, if they did, none believed.

The slow tightening of the noose around the necks of the Jews of Sighet began with the arrival of the German soldiers and even then they, the Jews of Sighet, failed to believe the insane inhumanity that was to be their fate. "The Germans," writes Wiesel, "were already in the town, the Fascists were already in power, the verdict had already been pronounced, yet the Jews of Sighet continued to smile." And as it was all over Europe, so the race laws in Sighet came to pass. First the yellow stars, next the ghettos, and finally deportation.

From this point on the story spirals into ever-increasing madness and inhumanity, the vivid descriptions of the camps and the conditions are powerful renditions of a tormented mind. There is no more haunting or disturbing passage in literature than Wiesel's recollection of his first night in Auschwitz. He writes:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
Shall we or rather did we forget?

"Night," which was first published in English in 1960, is, retrospectively, a prophetic indictment of future generations who, having the testimony and collective memory of the horrors of the Jewish holocaust, have more than once turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to those who have been oppressed, persecuted and slaughtered for no greater crime than being human. Since the Jewish holocaust genocides in East Timor, Rwanda, Cambodia, North Korea and Sudan (of which the latter two are still ongoing), to name a few, lay bare the real emptiness of the promise "never again." While philosophers and theologians debate the nature of evil, evil continues to propagate itself across the world and thousands die. Sadly, like the Jews of Sighet who, in 1944, had not heard of Auschwitz, a majority of the world today does not know of the plight of thousands of people who daily live and die in the cauldrons of despair, fear and savage hate.

Many of those victims, especially in the two ongoing genocides (North Korea and Sudan) are Christian and sadly, a large majority of Christians in countries with religious freedom have not heard of their suffering. I myself am not innocent of such a charge. I myself only became aware of the magnitude and extent of the modern persecution of Christians a few years ago and it is therefore with all humility I ask Christians in the free lands to not turn their backs in denial on those who are suffering for their Lord Jesus. The victims and survivors of persecution are, like Moshe the Beadle, witnesses to the reality of suffering inflicted on the saints. They are heralds affirming the prophecies of Christ that his followers will be forced to suffer for his name. As the noose was slowly tightened around their necks with the progression of restrictive measures in their town Wiesel laments: "And we, the Jews of Sighet, were waiting for better days." Can we afford to turn aside and ignore the proclamations of those who suffer for their faith today? Dare we?

"Night" is a shocking and defiant exposition of the innate nature of the hearts men. Wiesel not only records the brutality and inhumanity of the guards and Nazi's towards the Jews but also the inhumanity of the camp inmates towards each other. Lest we be too quick to judge we should be reminded that when looking into the depths of the human heart Conrad's protagonist Kurtz whispered in caustic terror "the horror, the horror." In "1945: The Last Days", James Moll's documentary on the survivors of the death camps, one of the survivors declares "the inhumanity of man towards man is beyond belief." The Bible confirms beyond all doubt that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer 17:9, KJV)

Wiesel and two of his older sisters survived the camps. Their parents and their baby sister did not. On that first night in the camp Wiesel devastatingly recalls that he "did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora (his baby sister) forever."

In the preface to "Night's" 25th anniversary edition, Robert McAfee Brown writes: "It must be the prayer of this generation that with his (Wiesel's) help we can recapture enough of that reality so that it will never be repeated." Indeed the testimony in "Night" will continue to be read by generations to come. May it be that this haunting narrative would awaken our sleeping souls, draw us into contemplative prayer and humble petitions for those who are suffering around the world and may the horrors so acutely described in this tragic, brilliantly written non-fiction tome never be repeated.

-PKS (30-Apr-2004)