Lent Reading: Night

I mentioned in my post last week about spiritual reading during Lent that one of the first things I planned to read this Lent was Elie Wiesel’s Night.  I did – in a single sitting; I picked up the book and could not put it down until I was finished.

Night is the first book Weisel wrote (it was written in 1958, although I read a new 2006 translation of it), a book the New York Times described as a “slim volume of terrifying power.”  The book records Weisel’s experience of being expelled from his home and of the hell he endured in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

It is one thing to read about the Holocaust from someone who writes from a distance.  One thing to learn the facts and hear about the atrocities second-hand.  It is quite another to read the first-hand account of this man who was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home to the concentration camps.  To listen to Weisel describe seeing babies thrown into flames, watching a young boy being hung in the square, hearing the cries of his father as he lay dying and not being able to go to him.

Is it any wonder that Weisel, who had been so devout in his faith before being dragged from his home, reached a point in the camps when prayer became difficult?  He describes a Rosh Hashanah in the camp, a day that previously had dominated his life, a day on which he had pleaded for forgiveness for his sins.  Of that day in the camp he writes

But now, I no longer pleaded for anything.  I was no longer able to lament.  On the contrary, I felt very strong.  I was the accuser, God the accused.  My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man.  Without love or mercy.  I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long.  In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger.

Although he questioned where God was in this suffering, somewhere there, he knew God was there.  On the day he watched three men being hung, someone behind him whispered, “For God’s sake, where is God?”  Weisel writess that “from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is?  This is where – hanging here from this gallows.'”

I read an interview with Weisel that occurred about fifteen years ago. He was asked how he and God are doing these days.  He responded

We still have a few problems! But even in the camps, I never divorced God. After the war, I went on praying to God. I was angry. I protested. I’m still protesting—and occasionally, I’m still angry. But it’s not because of the past, but the present. When I see victims of a tragedy—and especially children—I say to God, “Don’t tell me that you have nothing to do with this. You are everywhere—you are God.”

This is a painful book, but it is a testimony worth reading.

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3 thoughts on “Lent Reading: Night

  1. With your encouragement I may also get past good intentions, take Night off the shelf and actually read it. Truthfully, the book has intimidated me. Avoidance was also strong. Do I really want to “go there”? Yes and No! Thanks for the nudge!

  2. A modern day Job. I too was made aware through this book of the truth about the camps and the unspeakable suffering that occurred. It shows broken human nature in the oppressors and the true need for redemption. It is a way of the cross beyond what most of us are asked to travel.

    We need accounts such as Elie Wiesel’s to help us understand the horrors of war, especially at the hands of those who torture their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, there are still places in the world today where these things continue to happen.

    My uncle was in the US military group that initially freed Auschewitz. To the day he died he could not get a full sentence out without breaking into tears. He eventually gave up trying to talk about it, until a few days before his death when he shared his memories with family with tears in his eyes.

    Etty Hillesums book is a testimony that forgiveness is a choice even under the most difficult circumstances as these. Unfortunately she did not survive to tell her story after the camps. Bonhoeffer laid out the cost of discipleship and he too did not survive the camps-his way of the cross. They are two of my heroes and heroines. Thankfully we have the writings of all three to shed light on this horrendous treatment of our fellow human beings…Wiesel from the Jewish perspective and Bonhoeffer from the Christian perspective. And Hiilesum who blends the two perspectives in her book.

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