Dehumanization in Night
Night by Elie Wiesel is a memoir that documents the story of a young Jewish boy named Eliezer who was born in Sighet, Transylvania during World War II. The story begins in his hometown, where life is normal and calm before the storm. It quickly transitions into Nazi occupation, persecution, segregation in the form of ghettos, and eventually deportation to camps. As the Jewish people arrive at the camp known as Auschwitz, they are separated and many are immediately executed while the rest are sent off to work. The persecution does not simply end at hard work all day for the Jews, and as time goes on things become progressively worse for Eliezer. The Nazis rip and tear at the humanity of Eliezer throughout the book in an attempt to dehumanize him. For most of the Jews in the camp the end is a physical death; however, what Eliezer experiences at the end of the book is an internal death of himself. The SS soldiers achieve his internal death through segregation, mental abuse, and physical abuse that is so engrained in the mind of the Eliezer that it becomes a natural part of his existence, an everyday hell. As Halperin states, “Night defines the nature and charts the consequences of a loss of faith in the protagonist, Eliezer, as incident by incident, layer by layer, his trust in God and man is peeled away. It is this ‘peeling down’ process which constitutes the essential structure of Night and enables us to see it as a whole” (51). What Halperin means is that The Nazis’ goal is to dehumanize Eliezer. The Nazi soldiers successfully peel away at Eliezer’s humanity through various forms and methods until Eliezer dies on the inside.
The first step towards dehumanizing Eliezer is separating him from non-Jews. As the Jews are being placed inside the ghettos, Eliezer observes, “The barbed wire that encircled us like a wall did not fill us with real fear. In fact, we felt this was not a bad thing; we were entirely among ourselves” (11). No fear can be seen in Eliezer’s thoughts, although readers know there should be. Eliezer is still unsuspecting of what was to come, and that is what allows him to be taken so easily. Had the Nazis taken the Jews all at once, The Jews would have struggled much more, especially if they knew what was coming. The Nazis took things slow so as to avoid an uprising, to maintain control. Later, to further pronounce the separation between the population into Jews and non-Jews, the Nazis force all of the Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothes. About the same time that the Jews are placed in ghettos, with a more nervous tone in his voice, Eliezer ominously notes, “Three days later, a new decree: every Jew had to wear the yellow star” (11). The Nazis want to make it visibly known that the Jews are different. They force the yellow star on them so that anyone could know who was Jewish and who was not. Not only this, but also many decrees are set out that limit what people with the yellow star can do. By limiting Jews, the Nazis enforce a barrier between them and non-Jewish people. However, after all this segregation, and even someone within their community warning them of what to come, the Jews are still denying the inevitable. “No one could really imagine, even in those rare cases where individuals came back and insisted that the deported were not being taken to work camps, as they had been told, but to extermination centers” (Friedman 206). It is important to recognize the denial of what is about to happen, because much has yet to happen to the poor Jews of Sighet. For the coming weeks, the Jews would be abused and tortured not only physically, but mentally.
To proceed in the dehumanization of Eliezer, the Nazis torment his mind with disturbing images, and crush his spirit. Fine notes, “Once Eliezer enters Auschwitz, he loses his sense of time and reality. Darkness envelops him and penetrates within: his spirit shrouded, his God eclipsed, the blackness eternal” (49). A man who has...
Cited: Avni, Ora. “Beyond Psychoanalysis: Elie Wiesel’s Night in Historical Perspective.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Elie Wiesel’s Night. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. 129-143. Print.
Fine, Ellen S. “Witness of the Night.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Elie Wiesel’s Night. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. 47-67. Print.
Friedman, Maurice. “Elie Wiesel: The Job of Auschwitz.” Responses to Elie Wiesel. Ed. Harry James Cargas. New York: Persea, 1978. 205-207. Print.
Halperin, Irving. “From Night to The Gates of the Forest.” Responses to Elie Wiesel. Ed. Harry James Cargas. New York: Persea, 1978. 50-56. Print.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. Trans. Marion Wiesel. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. Print.
---. Preface to the New Translation. Night by Elie Wiesel. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. vii-xv. Print.
Winfrey, Oprah. “Oprah talks to Elie Wiesel.” O: The Oprah Magazine 1.5 (2000): 1-4. Print.
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