Auschwitz A survivor’s account | Sunday Observer

Auschwitz A survivor’s account

27 December, 2020

Author – Elie Wiesel

Translator – Marion Wiesel

Publisher – Penguin Books

Night is a personal account of the Holocaust.

The writer Elie Wiesel who was a survivor of the Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, was born in a Jewish ghetto in Hungary. When the Second World War was moving to its climax he was sent to the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps as a child.

Through this book he recounts ever–increasing horrors he endured, the loss of his family along with his little sister, his struggle to survive. It describes the tragic murder of a people from a survivor’s perspective and, at the end of the day it is among the most personal, intimate and poignant of all accounts of the Holocaust.

The book was originally written in Yiddish and this English translation was done from the French translation by his wife Marion Wiesel. Writing the preface to the new translation Elie Wiesel states, “If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one.” Then he says, “There are those who tell me that I survived in order to write this text. I am not convinced. I don’t know how I survived; I was weak, rather shy; I did nothing to save myself. A miracle? Certainly not. If heaven could or would perform a miracle for me, why not for others more deserving than myself? It was nothing more than chance. However, having survived, I needed to give some meaning to my survival. Was it to protect that meaning that I set to paper an experience in which nothing made any sense?”

Difficulty in finding words

As with every Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel also faced the difficulty of finding words to write the book as all the words had been deleted by the Holocaust:

“…. I also knew that, while I had many things to say, I did not have the words to say them. Painfully aware of my limitations, I watched helplessly as language became an obstacle. It became clear that it would be necessary to invent a new language. But how was one to rehabilitate and transform words betrayed and perverted by the enemy? Hunger – thirst – fear – transport – selection – fire – chimney: these words all have intrinsic meaning, but in those times, they meant something else. Writing in my mother tongue – at that point close to extinction – I would pause at every sentence, and start over and over again. I would conjure up other verbs, other images, other silent cries. It still was not right….”

The foreword of the Night is written by Nobel Prize winning famous French writer Franҫois Mauriac, and there he recalls how he met Elie Wiesel:

“Foreign journalists frequently come to see me. I am wary of them, torn as I am between my desire to speak to them freely and the fear of putting weapons into the hands of interviewers whose attitude toward France I do not know. During these encounters, I tend to be on my guard.

Dark period

“That particular morning, the young Jew who came to interview me on behalf of a Tel Aviv daily won me over from the first moment. Our conversation very quickly became more personal. Soon I was sharing with him memories from the time of the Occupation. It is not always the events that have touched us personally that affect us the most.

“I confided to my young visitor that nothing I had witnessed during that dark period had marked me as deeply as the image of cattle cars filled with Jewish children at the Auschwitz train station…. Yet I didn’t even see them with my own eyes. It was my wife who described them to me, still under the shock of the horror she had felt. At that time we knew nothing about the Nazi’s extermination methods. And who could have imagined such things!.....

“…. And when I said with a sigh, ‘I have thought of these children so many times!’ he told me, ‘I was one of them.’ He was one of them! He had seen his mother, a beloved little sister, and most of his family, except his father and two other sisters, disappear in a furnace fuelled by living creatures. As for his father, the boy had to witness his martyrdom day after day and, finally, his agony and death. And what a death! The circumstances of it are narrated in this book, and I shall allow readers – who should be as numerous as those reading The Diary of Anne Frank – to discover them for themselves as well as by what miracle the child himself escaped.”

Nazi crimes

Mauriac was a Catholic French writer. Because of this religious background he couldn’t believe the facts about Nazi crimes, and that he would meet one day a survivor of the Auschwitz cattle car train filled with children. However, the conspicuous feature of the book is that it was written in a rhythm of sad tone which is very appropriate:

“The eight days of Passover.

“The weather was sublime. My mother was busy in the kitchen. The synagogues were no longer open. People gathered in private homes: no need to provoke the Germans.

“Almost every rabbi’s home became a house of prayer.

“We drank, we ate, we sang. The Bible commands us to rejoice during the eight days of celebration, but our hearts were not in it. We wished the holiday would end so as not to have to pretend.

“On the seventh day of Passover, the curtain finally rose: the Germans arrested the leaders of the Jewish community.

“From that moment on, everything happened very quickly. The race toward death had begun.” (Page 10)

In fact, the content altogether is an unbelievable sad song like a sad symphony. As the narrator of the book is a child, all the terrible scenes of it are presented through a child’s eye. A child can see, but cannot think deeply. So the narration is simple, fixed, and comes out as photo frames. Following is such a photo frame from the last days at Auschwitz:


“When I woke up, it was daylight. That is when I remembered that I had a father. During the alert, I had followed the mob, not taking care of him. I knew he was running out of strength, close to death, and yet I had abandoned him.

“I went to look for him.

“Yet at the same time a thought crept into my mind: If only I didn’t find him! If only I were relieved of this responsibility, I could use all my strength to fight for my own survival, to take care only of myself… Instantly, I felt ashamed, ashamed of myself forever.

“I walked for hours without finding him. Then I came to a block where they were distributing black ‘coffee’. People stood in line, quarrelled.

“A plaintive voice came from behind me:

“’Eliezer, my son…. Bring me…. a little coffee.’

“I ran towards him.

“’Father! I’ve been looking for you for so long… Where were you? Did you sleep? How are you feeling?’

“He seemed to be burning with fever. I fought my way to the coffee cauldron like a wild beast. And I succeeded in bringing back a cup. I took one gulp. The rest was for him.” (Page 106)