Students Respond to Wiesel's Night

Night Illuminates

Elie Wiesel's autobiography Night continues to be one of the most widely read Holocaust books for high school students. This year, students in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Yorktown, New York; Cold Spring Harbor, New York; and Chicago, Illinois had a chance to do common reading of Night and select a quote from the book that had meaning for them. Students wrote to each other, reacted, or referred to each other's comments. Here are some excerpts from exhanges. All these responses, and many more appeared in the iearn.hgp teleconference in a special discussion topic for Wiesel's book.

Photograph: Gate at Auschwitz II-Birkenau
Gate at Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Hello, my name is Ryan Egan and I go to the Walkabout Program in Yorktown, New York. I am 18 years old and plan to attend college next year. This past week I read Night by Elie Wiesel. This book hit me very hard. One of the quotes that struck me was when Elie was working in the crematory and one of the workers said "Look over there, that is your grave" meaning that he was going to die and be placed there pretty soon.

I tried to think what it must have been like to hear that and see the crematory, but it would have been too much. It is still amazing that he survived those years at Auschwitz and all the death and horror that he must have seen and gone through. To see his family executed and still be able to move on and try to save himself was very inspiring to me.

It is hard to imagine that only fifty years ago millions of people were killed because of their religion. I think that we must unite to make sure that this horror never happens again. Not only to Jews, but to anyone. I think we should also take steps to stop the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda.

My name is Jen Lees and I go to the Walkabout Program in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. I'm 18 years old, and I love to read and write poetry. Our class is also reading Night by Elie Wiesel. I loved it, but it made me very angry to know how these people were murdered, tortured, and mutilated. I found myself wanting to jump into the book and end these atrocities. A quote that hit me was:

"Where is God now?" And I heard a voice within me answer him: "Where is He? Here He is He is hanging here on this gallows. . . . That night the soup tasted of corpses."

This to me meant that his faith in God had died with the child who not only was hanged and murdered, but who took a half hour to finally die. "He struggled between life and death," and everyone had to watch. Elie could not accept that his God would allow this to happen especially to a child who suffered so much before he died. I definitely have thought that myself many times! It is hard to believe that any God would allow that to happen, but I realized that if there is a God, he put us here to live, to take care of ourselves, each other, and the Earth. I think what we actually do is not under his control.

He can only help us to help ourselves in the situation of a Holocaust or any other disaster. But all of what I'm saying is just my opinion. For all I know, I'm totally wrong!

In response to Kristian, I totally agree with what you said. I don't think I would have been able to endure the pain and torture these people experienced every minute of every day! While I was reading Night, I asked myself constantly if I could deal with all the insanity. I really don't know, but I don't think so. I also agree that Elie almost jumping on the electric wire to show the Nazis that they couldn't kill another Jew, was in fact the bravest act a person could have made! I only wish I would have acted the same way and had such immense courage. Thanks for making me think about it! You made me see the courage Elie possessed even clearer. If you want to respond please do so!

My name is Ramesh Srinivasan and I go to Morgan Park Academy, Illinois. On page 31 of Night, Mr. Elie Wiesel writes:

"For the first time, I felt a revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for?"

In this part of the book Elie and many of the other Jews are being forced into the crematory by the Nazis. Around Elie many of the Jews, including Elie's father, are reciting the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. In this quote Elie is responding to the praying of the other Jews.

Through his quote Mr. Wiesel has raised some important questions: Why should Elie or any other of the Jews who experienced the Holocaust thank God, or even believe in God for that matter? If there is a God. why were six million innocent Jews, many of whom were children and babies, killed so brutally in the concentration camps during the Holocaust? Although our own lives are much different than Elie's, these questions should also be very important to me and those others who believe in God. Why do we believe in God and what is the reasoning behind our beliefs?

My name is Sara Strasser, and I attend Morgan Park Academy, Illinois. In the autobiography, Night, Elie Wiesel describes his life in the concentration camps. He tells about how it drastically affected his life. During his life in the camps, he learned new ways of life. He learned how cruel people could be in order to get what they want. He learned about the hard way...a way that he should have never had to face. He lost his emotional side; he no longer got upset because he knew that it would do no good. Throughout all of these changes in Elie's life, changes for the worse, he did learn one good thing. He learned a special closeness to his father that he never felt before.

"And was he [Elie's Father] dead, too? I called him. No answer. I would have cried out if I could have done so. He did not move.

My mind was invaded by this realization -- there was no more reason to live, no more reason to struggle." (Wiesel, 93)

Throughout Elie's fight for his life in these concentration camps, he has felt a special closeness to his father. Despite what else goes on, what horror Elie goes through, all the pain that he suffers, he lives through it all. He does this because of his father. He knows that if he dies, his father will also die. He fights for his life with his father, and this makes both of them stronger. Even though Elie's father did eventually die in the concentration camps, Elie formed a special bond between his father and himself, and this bond will never be forgotten.

Hi, my name is Stephanie Rasulo. I am 15 years old and I am in tenth grade at Cold Spring Harbor High. My English class just finished reading Night by Elie Wiesel. It was a really important story because it is true. One of my favorite quotes from the book is:

"A prolonged whistle split the air. The wheels began to grind. We were on our way." (Wiesel, 20)

At this point in the book, Elie Wiesel and his family were being shipped out of the little ghetto in cattle cars; 80 people were packed in each car for days without food or water. Elie wrote it as if they were going on vacation, not to a Nazi death camp. The way he understated what was going on, made the impact of the words stronger.

In my social studies class, we watched a video about the Holocaust and about how some people believe it never happened. They also said that the people who were not involved had a responsibility to do something to stop the killing, but they did nothing.

There is genocide going on today in places like Sarajevo, Africa and Russia, and no one is doing anything to help those people. What do you think of this? What will you do to help or stop it? Do you believe the Holocaust happened? I do, and I think it is totally ignorant to think it is a hoax. That opinion is not even debatable because it is so insane.

Hi, Stephanie, how are you doing this evening? My name is Charmain Jaramillo and I am a senior at Albuquerque High School, New Mexico. My partner is not here today so it's just me and you. Right now I'm only in the 7th paragragh and I'm very interested in the book. In another class I also watched a movie on the Holocaust. I think that situation was very disgusting. No human being should have had to go through this. I feel the reason that no-one expresses their feelings is because they don't want to die themselves. Because if they say the wrong thing they will get shot. I believe the Holocaust happened. If there was anything I could have done to help these trapped, tortured, and innocent people, I would have. How did this insane procedure start in the first place?

Hi, my name is Sandy Goldberg, and I am 16, and in the tenth grade at Cold Spring Harbor H.S., New York. We have just finished the autobiography Night by Elie Wiesel, and sitting next to me at the computer is Kevin Mazur. We are writing down our most meaningful quote. We would like very much for you to do the same.

"A prolonged whistle split the air. The wheels began to grind. We were on our way." (Wiesel, 20)

There are many different ways that a quote can be interpreted, and different people have their own views. The way that I thought of this quote was that there was nothing that Jews were able to do. All that they had ever worked for was gone. This quote shows lots of emotion. It reminds me of a movie scene where a guy is leaving for the army and his wife is on the walk waving good-bye. Once that whistle blows, all is quiet and there is the emotion between them where they both know that the love that they shared could be gone, and they may never see each other again. That comparison, I feel is one on an emotional level that shows exactly how I see it. The way that Elie Wiesel writes about this scene makes it sound as if the Jews were going on a nice vacation, but in reality, they were headed for their deaths at Auschwitz.

"Do you see that chimney over there? See it? Do you see those flames? . . . That's your grave, over there." (Wiesel, 28)

This is a very emotional quote. I can't imagine how the Jews must have felt, knowing that they could see their death. What's more they could smell the flesh of the other Jews being killed. The chimneys were part of the crematorium. Imagine being that close to being killed, and having no chance of getting away. It makes me sick to think of someone being thrown into an oven while still living. We must learn to live with each other. We are all equals. No one should have to die because he is black, white, Jewish, or Christian. Do you agree?

Hello Sandy and Kevin, this is Carlos Aragon and Terry Holmes from Albuquerque High School, New Mexico, just dropping in to bring you our response to your excellently picked quote and to give you a little insight. Thank you for your fine quote and exquisite in-depth response. Terry and I were quite astonished at how intricately you explained and thought about how it would feel to be in a situation where death was right in front of their face and not being able to escape from this horrid nightmare, and yes, Elie Wiesel did make it seem like a vacation as they were coming to their death. Terry and I both strongly agree with you that we must learn to live with eachother in love and harmony as brothers and sisters regardless of whether we are black, white, Jewish, or Christian.

Have you ever had a nightmare, where it seemed so real, but you just hoped that it was just a nightmare in your head and not real? Well this is just what Elie Wiesel thought. He says this:

"I pinched my face. Was I still alive? Was I awake? I could not believe it.

How could it be possible for them to burn people, children, and for the world to keep silent? No, none of this could be true. It was a nightmare. Soon I should wake with a stort, my heart pounding, and find myself back in my bedroom of my childhood, among my books."

How terrible this must have been for Elie and the other Jews to feel this way of having a nightmare but not being able to wake up.

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