“The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness
in our souls.”
Wiesel considered carefully the title he would give to his testimony and the
choice of ‘La Nuit’ (Night), conjures up many images.
Darkness, of course, symbolizes evil and the fact that Elie’s worst days in
the camps took place over the winter of 1944/45 means that the majority of their time was spent in darkness, during the long winter nights.
We will recall that their arrival at Auschwitz took place under cover of darkness and we read, “As the train stopped, we saw this time that flames were gushing out of a tall chimney into the black sky.” The flames can symbolize the spirit of the Jews being engulfed by the black evil of the Third Reich. A similar image is provided by the scene where truckloads of children are sacrificed in a fiery ditch. The flaming corpses light up the night sky at Birkenau. Even in the daylight, there is a black pall of smoke hanging over the camp. There is no escape from the darkness.
Of course the black is not just a physical symbol as indicated in the
opening quote above. It has left a permanent darkness on the souls of those that survived the holocaust. It has dulled the spirit and tainted Elie’s vision of the world.
We observe the young Elie as a teenager, full of hope and idealism, but his
experiences have blackened this viewpoint.
On reading the foreword to the book by Fran'ois Mauriac we note that Wiesel
waited ten years nursing this darkness in his memory before putting pen to paper and recounting his experiences. He was then aged twenty-six and Mauriac urged him to expose what he suffered under Hitler’s
regime. Mauriac’s feeling was that Wiesel had traveled to hell and survived and that it was his destiny that he should give an account of this experience.
When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, he referred to his experiences as being those of a young man discovering “the kingdom of night”.
As we have indicated previously in this Wolfnote, Elie considered one of the
main reasons for this growth of darkness over Europe as being the apathy of the man in the street.
He questions how so many people could stand by and watch the evil Nazi regime grow. There is an indication in recent decades that the common man has become less apathetic. We have noted the fall of various dictatorships in Eastern Europe since the war, and one senses that this lack of apathy is now spreading into other corners of the world.
There are always going to be tyrants and despots who will try to impose
their evil aims on others, but hopefully there will be people who will rise up and oppose their evil.