Imagine your life being turned upside down. You are yanked out of your house, all of your belongings are taken, and your privacy is intruded on. You no longer have anything to call your own, and your family is slowly being taken away, too. This is what was happening to thousands of Jews during WWII. Elie Wiesel, a concentration camp survivor, reflects back on his journey during the Holocaust through a book called Night.
In this book, Elie relives his painful past and describes many of the hardships that he faced. The book is full of sorrow and loss, and explains why that period in time was so horrible for Jews. Three major things that Elie had lost throughout his journey during the Holocaust were his innocence, his identity, and his faith in God. Elie had seen so much death, agony, and sorrow by the end of the Holocaust that he had lost his innocence. When Elie first entered the concentration camp known as Birkenau, he saw the Nazis killing children and women in pits by setting them on fire and burning them alive. This changed his view on the world forever, “How was it possible that men, women, and children were being burned and the world kept silent? No.
All this could not be real” (Wiesel 32). Elie started off naive and believed that the world was good and would come to peoples’ aid when they were in need. The idea of innocent people being killed never occurred to him. From that point on, Elie slowly started losing his innocence and started realizing how cruel people could really be. Later in the book, Elie was transferred to a different concentration camp on a crowded cattle car. When the cars were stopped in towns, the German people would throw bread into the cars to see what would happen.
The Jews were so hungry that they fought like animals for the bread; however, Elie did not participate in the violence. While he was standing on the sidelines, he watched as a man was killed by his own son. Soon after, the son was killed by other starved prisoners. “When they withdrew, there were two dead bodies next to me, the father and the son. I was sixteen” (Wiesel 102). In this generation, by the age of sixteen most teenagers are going to school and learning how to drive.
The most stressful thing in their lives is probably trying to keep their grades up. This was definitely not the case for Elie Wiesel. By the time Elie was sixteen he had been tortured physically and mentally, he had been forced to work hours upon hours every day, and he had witnessed the death of hundreds of Jews. By the age of sixteen Elie had lived a life that even a grown man should never have to live. Elie’s sudden forfeit of his innocence affected him because later in his life he realized he never wanted a child to have to deal with the things he did in his past.
He can never regain his innocence, but he can help others make sure they don’t lose theirs. However, this wasn’t the only thing Elie lost. In addition to losing his innocence, Elie lost his identity during the Holocaust. The Nazis had turned the Jews into mere shadows of themselves by taking away their names and their individuality. When the Jews were first brought to the concentration camps, they were forced to give up all of their clothes and were only allowed to wear what was given to them. “As we ran, they threw the clothes at us: pants, jackets, shirts… In a few seconds we had ceased to be men” (Wiesel 36-37).
To Elie, the fact that they were stripped of all their personal belongings and forced to dress exactly like one another was dehumanizing. Now the Germans only saw them as faceless prisoners that were there to work. There was nothing that distinguished one prisoner from the other so it made Elie feel like he was slowly losing his identity. The Nazis also forced the Jews to give up their names when they came to the camps. Their names were later replaced by numbers. These numbers were tattooed on the arms’ of the prisoners, “I became A-7713.
From then on, I had no other name” (Wiesel 42). When the Nazis took away their prisoners’ names, it truly was a form of dehumanization. It showed that they didn’t view their prisoners as humans that were capable of emotions and pain, but of machines that were created only to work. This was the act that officially took away Elie’s identity during the Holocaust. He had lost the only thing that was unique to him since birth. However, unlike his innocence, Elie did eventually gain it back.
He was affected by this loss because it led him to changing into a completely different person than who he was before the Holocaust. After he lost it, he started letting go of more of the things that made him unique. One of the things that he discarded after he lost his identity was his faith in god. After a few weeks of being in the concentration camps, Elie had gotten used to seeing men die on a daily basis. One day, the officers of the camp caught some prisoners storing weapons to try to revolt.
All of the prisoners that participated in this failed act of rebellion were executed publicly. Elie didn’t think twice about it because he was so used to seeing unjustified killing. However, the officers found out that a young boy played a part in storing the weapons so they decided to kill him also. This time Elie, and all the other prisoners were astonished that the Nazis would kill a child publicly. When the child was hanged, the Nazis forced the prisoners to look at him in the eyes as he was being killed. This made the prisoners question their faith in God, “‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where-hanging from this gallows…'” (Wiesel 65).
The hanging of this child made Elie believe that God was death. It made him believe that God no longer protected the Jewish people or answered their prayers, but instead rewarded them with death. Soon after that faith shaking experience it was Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holiday where they celebrated the last day of the Jewish year. On this day, everybody gathered for a prayer before they ate their evening meal. Many of the Jews prayed passionately to their God, but Elie just stood there feeling like everything was God’s fault.
“…I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused… In the midst of all these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger” (Wiesel 68). Elie no longer felt like there was a God for him to pray to, he felt like man was the strongest creation and God had to apologize for what He had done. This feeling of superiority caused Elie to let go if his faith completely during the Holocaust. Just like his identity, he eventually came back to his God. Losing his faith affected Elie because it made him lose hope as well.
Since he believed in no God, he didn’t have anyone to pray to, so it made him feel like the only way to make things better was to rely on himself. He probably felt like a lot of pressure was on him to keep, not only himself, but also his father alive. No one of his age should have to feel like the lives of two people are in their hands. Elie was able to rely on himself to stay alive, but unfortunately his father passed away. To conclude, three things the Holocaust took away from Elie Wiesel were his childhood, his individuality, and his God.
When Elie was forced to witness the death of Jews, including women and children, it caused him to give up his childhood earlier than he should have had to. He was also forced to give up all of his belongings, which led to him losing his most distinguishing characteristics, such as his name. Finally, every factor of the concentration camps played a little part in Elie losing his faith. His loss of faith eventually made him lose his hope in survival. However, he did end up surviving.
After his traumatizing experience of the Holocaust, Elie regained his identity and faith and uses them to help others today. Since he never regained his innocence, it motivates him to make sure no child ever has a future that’s equivalent to his past. In a way, the Holocaust turned Elie Wiesel into the life-changing person that he is today. Even though the Holocaust may have taken away so many things from Elie that it reduced him into a shadow of what he was capable of, he regained control of his life and defeated that shadow. Today, he is working to help others defeat their shadows, and writing the book Night was just the start for him.