What Is Humanity?
It was for six years that one man faced senseless killings, going on with life under command instead of free thought. World War II was one of the bloodiest wars to date, a time when it seemed as if nobody’s life was worth anything except perhaps the chance to end someone else’s. Some of the horrendous crimes committed against the human race that occurred over the course of this war are depicted in great detail in the books Night and The Diary of a Young Girl. These books tell the story of life the suppressed, Jewish citizens in a totalitarian, fascist political system from the first person point of view. They talk of life before and during the war and they tell stories of living in hiding and suffering in concentration camps.
In these books the humanity of the oppressors are shown and the humanity of the oppressed are put to the test.
Night by Elie Wiesel and The diary of a young girl by Anne Frank are two books that altered the view of the world and of humanity for so many. Both books are written by vulnerable teenagers experiencing the most heart wrenching hardship of all times, the Holocaust. Due to their young age they look at the world from a very unique perspective, so their account of the War is very different then that of others’. Not completely understanding what’s happening around them leaves the two young writers in a state of disarray and confusion. They question so many things that they held important in their lives; religion, family, and the humanity of others. Humanity comes from within, its how one thinks of another and the actions they take that are fueled by those thoughts. These actions are determined by one’s force from inside to be and to do good, and from forces that other’s have. For some it might take religion to achieve it, while many others can have it on their own. But what is really important is that it’s there. The dictionary defines humanity as the quality of being humane, having kindness and benevolence. These are all very important traits of humanity but it goes further then that, it takes something a little bit deeper. Humanity takes kindness and compassion, but it also needs a level of independence. During World War II. there was tremendous hatred and violence against Jews in Europe. The actions rooting of this hatred stripped the Jewish people of dignity piece by piece, robbed their existence by methodical, unemotional machinery. They lost their independence. Many people went along with this hatred, often times out of fear for their own safety but there were some who stood up, and stood out by helping the Jewish citizen’s of Europe so that they could stay alive. People like the employees of Otto Frank’s firm broke very strict laws in order to help the Frank’s, Daan’s and Mr. Dussel make it through the war, Tragically , in the end their great sacrifices were unsuccessful because only one man, Otto Frank survived.
Throughout all the terrible things that were going on in society around both Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel there were still those who pushed through with that “light within” to help out those who were being killed from the inside out. In the book Night there was a peasant maid of the Wiesels’, Maria who tried to help by offering shelter in a faraway village. “Maria, our former maid, came to see us. Sobbing, she begged us to come with her to her village where she had prepared a safe shelter.” (Wiesel 20.) The goodness of people during these times where also showed by how they went along with life as if there weren’t all those terrible things happening, helping those who were suffering to feel as if they weren’t in that terrible point in life. A good example of this is in The Diary of a Young Girl.
Evidence of Margot’s goodness.” I received this today, March 20, 1944:/ Anne, yesterday when I said I wasn’t jealous of you, I wasn’t being entirely honest. The situation is this: I’m not jealous of either you or Peter. I’m just sorry I haven’t found anyone with whom to share my thoughts or feelings, and I’m not likely to in the near future. But that’s why I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that you will both be able to place your trust in each other.” (Frank 223)
Once somebody has humanity doesn’t mean that they will have it forever. The things that can change someone’s humanity are a combination of external and internal forces; in essence it depends on how the person reacts to the situation. In times when humanity is put test there are two groups of people; the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppressor is the group who is in charge and they try to take all the humanity away from the others, making them feel as if they have no reason to exist. By taking away their dignity the oppressed often have no drive to go on, no reason to keep going with life. In most circumstances the oppressor has the ability to fully strip humanity away from those who are oppressed, but sometimes the oppressed have some sort of a light from within that can still shine through. One can only be lowered to a status at which they can see themselves at; one can only feel as they let someone else make them feel. Those that have confidence, pride, some kind of motivation that they can hold onto will be able too keep their humanity no matter what. Whether its religion, or family there are those that have the strength to make it through anything and everything. ?
The most tragic is watching someone who has lost there drive to go on, who has lost their dignity, their humanity. The book Night hopelessness amongst everyone sets in when Akiba looses his humanity, faith and then soon after his life
… Lately, he has been wandering among us, his eyes glazed, telling everyone how weak he was: “I can’t go on…it’s over…” we tried to raise his spirits, but he wouldn’t listen to anything we said. He just kept repeating that it was all over for him, that he could no longer fight; he had no more strength, no more faith. (Wiesel 76) The loss of humanity is not a process that can happen overnight; rather it is a tragic chain of events. It has been brilliantly described in the Night, starting with the portrayal of the peace-time life of the Jewish community of Sighet, .As the oppressors extend their power, fewer people could keep humanity, but in the beginning of the ghetto life the Wiesel’s were still standing out. By the time the cattle train with the Jews of Sighet arrived to Auschwitz the dignity of people diminished greatly “Another scream jolted us. The woman had broken free of her bonds and was shouting louder then before…….. “Keep her quite! Make that madwoman shut up. She’s not the only one here…”.”(Wiesel 26) The realization of what Auschwitz stood for shocked the newcomers and the fear crept into their hearts, souls and their bones, and paralyzed most of them. “We no longer clung to anything. The instincts of self-preservation, of self defense, of pride, had all deserted us.”(Wiesel 36)
After complete hopelessness a young polish man brought back normality to the prisoners’ life:
Comrades… don’t lose hope. You have already eluded the worst danger: the selection. Therefore, muster your strength and keep your faith. We shall all see the day of liberation. Have faith in life, a thousand times faith. By driving out despair, you will move away from death. Hell does not last forever. (Wiesel 41)
Similar changes have happened, yet in a subdued manner during the 2 years hiding of the Franks and 2 other families in Amsterdam. While they had not to face the harsh brutality and direct death threat of a concentration camp they still had to suffer to the confinement of an annex that their friends had been kind enough to assemble for those oppressed Jewish families. Religion is a very important part to many people lives; it helps them through times when they are feeling low and gives them so thing or one to thank when they have everything going the way they want it to. Religion also can play a very important part in humanity, however it is not required. Religion seems to have an effect on people where it tells them how to live their lives and how to act towards others, which is the basis of humanity, and often times its good. But in some circumstances it can be destructive whether its genocide or car bombs religion can be of a negative effect and stripping people of their humane qualities. Religion can also be crucial for those that are being oppressed. Even if the oppression is because of their religion. Faith can help them through it and bring peace and reason to the situation. Akiba-“God is testing us. He wants to see whether we are capable of overcoming our base instincts, of killing Satan within ourselves. We have no right to despair. And if he punishes us mercilessly, it is a sign that he loves us that much more…” (Wiesel 45). Religion also can be taken away by horrendous circumstances Night “For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify his name? The almighty, the eternal and terrible master of the universe, chose to be silent? What was there to thank for him for?” (Wiesel 33). but it doesn’t mean the loss of humanity. The writer had lost so much, his family, his faith, his desire to live, yet still wrote a book to serve the humanity by creating a memento to Men to remember. “The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become there future.” (Wiesel, Introduction, 15.) The heart breaking stories of Elie Wiesel’s Night and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young girl a testament of the Holocaust, one of the genocides of the 20th century. When an entire race had to go through for no reason. Both books present a unique, internal recount of the events from the oppressed point of view. It shows their struggle; for life, for family, for faith, and for humanity. The reader of these novels could learn some new aspects, and perhaps could rephrase the definition of humanity, love, faith, and dignity.
The readers also could ask themselves: What are the most important traits that defines ones self. Is it faith? Is it family ties, where one was brought up? Is it ones genes? Or the environment where one has to live? Probably all of these and more. The humanity and egoism are the two poles of the same trait that almost traded places as the possibility of human life lessened and lowered. The physically and emotionally oppressed prisoners were left with no choice but fallowing the basic instincts of survival.
However, love has not disappeared, and that helped to keep humanity. It was best illustrated in the description of the relationship of Ellie and his father. They had a chance to stay together in the concentration camp and always cared deeply and lovingly one another.
Finally, these two books should serve as mementos for our and for the next generation. We should not repeated this terrible, senseless dehumanization of entire races,
“The witness has forced himself to testify. For the youth of today, for the children who will be born tomorrow. He does not want his past to become there future.” (Wiesel, Introduction, 15.)
Wiesel, Elie. “Night”. New York:
Hill and Wang, A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.
Frank, Anne. “The Diary of a Young Girl”. New York: Bantam Book, 1997.
Bibliography: Wiesel, Elie. “Night”. New York: Hill and Wang, A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Frank, Anne. “The Diary of a Young Girl”. New York: Bantam Book, 1997.