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 a 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. Elie Wiesel, Night (New York: Bantam, 1982), p. 32
A noted Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and professor, Elie Wiesel has worked on behalf of oppressed people for much of his adult life. His personal experience of the Holocaust has led him to use his talents as an author, teacher, and narrator to defend human rights and peace throughout the world. To understand Elie Wiesel’s story, you must recognize the history of the Holocaust. In 1933, Adolf Hitler was named chancellor, the most powerful position of the German government, in hope of leading the nation out of its political and economic crisis. Hitler was the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party, also known as the Nazi party. It became one of the strongest parties in Germany. Once in power, Hitler quickly tried to end German democracy. The Enabling Act of March 23, 1933 gave dictatorial powers to Hitler (Bachrach).
The Nazi’s believed that the Germans were “racially superior” and that there was a struggle between them and “inferior races”. They saw Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped as a serious biological threat to the purity of the German race (Bachrach). The Jews were the principle target of the Nazi’s hatred. The spark of what would later be the Holocaust began with hateful propaganda that unfairly blamed the Jews for Germany’s economic depression and the country’s defeat in World War I. Soon after, Jews were forced from their jobs and public life. A boycott of Jewish businesses formed and Jews were made second-class citizens. Between 1937 and 1939, new anti-Jewish regulations segregated Jews further and made daily life very difficult for them: Jews could not attend public schools; go to theaters, cinemas, or vacation resorts; or reside or even walk in certain sections of German cities (Bachrach). The Nazis seized Jewish businesses and properties, burnt down Jewish synagogues and stores, arrested and killed Jewish men and women, and vandalized their homes.
World War II erupted on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Thousands of Poles and Polish Jews were concentrated in ghettos in major cities, where they would be put to work for the German war industry. During World War II, Germany also occupied Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. In 1940, the Nazis began establishing ghettos for the Jews of Poland. More than 10 percent of the Polish population was Jewish, numbering about three million. Jews were forcibly banished from their homes and belongings to live in crowded ghettos, isolated from the rest of society (Holocaust Memorial Center). The ghettos lacked the necessary food, water, space, and sanitary facilities required by so many people living within their constricted boundaries. This later aided the Nazis in their deportation of the Jews to the concentration camps, death camps. Jews were loaded into crowded cattle cars without proper ventilation. The cars were sealed from the outside and the Jews were kept in the cars for days without water or food until they reached their destination. Many perished as a result of the conditions on the train. On January 20, 1942, several top officials of the German government met to organize a system of mass murder of the Jews. Only the Jews were marked for systematic...
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