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Students Respond
to Holocaust Memoir

Compiled by Chirag Badlani,
Cold Spring Harbor High School,
New York, United States

[ 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Auschwitz Entrance Gate) ]
Entrance Gate at Auschwitz

One of the most read Holocaust books by high school students is Night, by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. Many students claim that they gained very much from reading Wiesel's memoir, a knowledge that could not be gained from textbooks or from a teacher. The following excerpts explain what individual students gained from reading the book, and probably will gain forever. These United States students are from Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York; Georgetown Preparatory School in Maryland; and, Blue Ridge High School in Arizona.

[ Cover of Wiesel's 'Night' ]

I learned that there were small uprisings among the prisoners. I learned that they felt like Job who is the author of the book of Job in the Old Testament. He was stripped of all that he had except for his life. I was able to understand the level to which most of these prisoners of the Nazis would go just to get food. For example, one man on the train was in a pile of starving, fighting men, just trying to get a few crumbs of bread. This incident was very vivid in my mind. I felt really surprised and happy, to say the least, that these men would still worship God, even after all He had allowed them to go through. Although this is a joyful part of the book, when everybody still alive is rescued, I felt bad for Elie, when he felt like a robber going back to his house in the old ghetto to find his watch. I think that this book has a lot to teach its reader.

- Ryan Baker

In Night, I learned many details about the Holocaust, but besides all that, I have learned about how strong the human spirit is. The strength and the need to live of Elie Wiesel, and all the people he talked about, even though I've heard it before, will forever astound me. Through all the hardship and suffering, he wanted to live on and believed he could. I believe that this is so much more important than figures and dates; this is the real reason we should learn about the Holocaust.

- Travis Benvenuti

In this unit, I learned about the devastating effects on the children and the scars, emotional and physical, that everyone endured. I also saw on the Internet, in the computer room, how thin the people in the Holocaust got. One picture I saw has haunted me since I saw it; it was of a small boy, who was the thinnest person I've ever seen, yet he still smiled for the camera.

In the book, after the prisoners stayed in Gleiwitz and were about to leave, they were very thirsty, but the SS wouldn't let them bend over to eat snow. So they took spoons and ate the snow off each other's back. This showed me how desperate the prisoners were to survive. That made me think of how lucky people are today. It has also made me thankful that nothing so terrible has happened in America....

- Eric Boudreaux

Before we started this unit, I know only a little about the Holocaust. I never knew to what extent some people were tortured. I didn't realize that Jews weren't the only people killed during the Holocaust; Gypsies, the handicapped, gays, and Jehovah's Witnesses were also killed. The book Night, by Elie Wiesel, helped me to understand better what happened during the Holocaust. I know, however, that I can never fully understand it, for I was not a part of it. The part of the book that moved me occurred when Elie arrived at the concentration camp and saw all the faces of the children burning in the crematory. I will never understand how the Nazis could put children into a crematory. When I read it, I thought about how innocent and young all children were who were tortured, beaten, and killed. Not only is it wrong to do that to children, but to any living thing.

- Christina Corcoran

I learned about all the different groups of people who were persecuted during the Holocaust. I also learned all the symbols that people wore to label them in the concentration camps.I found out how the Germans made very specific records about everything that they did. I found the relationship between Elie and his father very moving, and how they lived for each other and kept each other living just by being alive. They were both there for each other, if one needed bread or comfort. Another part of the book that moved me was when Juliek played the violin inside the shed when all the men were sleeping. He played Beethoven, which was forbidden by the Germans. It was an act of rebellion. This scene really painted an image in my mind.

- Heather King

I learned many things from the book Night, by Elie Wiesel, and this entire lesson overall. I learned of the progressive steps leading to the ghettos and why many Jews never fled from persecution. In this autobiographical account, I read descriptions of concentration camps that were outside of Germany. Elie Wiesel recalled the famous into a crematory that seemed to continue forever. Later in this lesson of the Holocaust, I visited many Web sites. I found the Pink Triangle Pages, which recognize the fallen gays and lesbians of the Holocaust, to be the most informative. Among other statistics and facts, I learned of the various badges that different groups had to wear.

Several sections and passages moved me in the book Night. Perhaps the scene during the death march, when Elie suddenly stops writing and says, "I was fifteen years old," moved me the most. That simple sentence had such a powerful impact, because I, too, am fifteen years old.

- Bent Hildebrand

In sixth and seventh grade, I thought I learned a lot about the Holocaust, but in this unit, I learned more than I expected. On the Internet, I found Web sites with hundreds of individual survivor stories, rescuers like Raoul Wallenberg, and the Web sites which deny the Holocaust's existence. I didn't know there were so many people who ignored or denied the Holocaust and that, to worsen matters, they make up stories to "verify" their beliefs.

- Drek Hsiang

I learned that there were many other minorities who were persecuted and killed, in addition to the Jews. I discovered some of the symbols and patches that the persecuted people had to wear. I learned of some of the inhumane tests that were performed on twins. I also learned of the corrupt dealings that were going on, such as those of dentists extracting gold teeth from the Jews before or after they were killed.

I found particularly moving the fact that a fifteen-year-old boy, my age, had to suffer conditions that not even adults could withstand....

- Jennifer Paragallo

...Also, the parts that showed how Elie was changing shocked me. He was afraid help out his father when he was beaten, but before the Holocaust, he would have stood up for his father if he were in danger. This change in Elie show that instinct to preserve his own live, as in all humans, took over when he was put in a situation in which his life was threatened. This did not mean he loved his father any less. If his father was being beaten prior to being put in a concentration camp, Elie would have helped his father because his own life would not have been in danger. While reading Night, I thought that I would have come to the aid of my father. I cannot fairly judge Elie's actions, because I cannot possibly understand the mental state that Elie was in after being tortured and starved for a long period of time.

- Katie Cook

Since I started this unit, I learned plenty of things of different natures. One thing I learned was the names and atmospheres of the concentration camps. I did not know that the prisoners had to be transferred so many times between camps during their imprisonment. Another thing learned was the importance and devastation of what ignorance can do. I was shocked when I found out that several governments knew about the Holocaust beforehand.

- Ken Mizuno

From Night, the autobiographical account of the Holocaust by Elie Wiesel, I learned the Hungarian Jews were some of the last to be deported and that, because of this fact, they were treated among the harshest and with the most brutality.

- Kris Koka

[ Matt and Kris ]
Matt London and Kris Koka

I always knew that the things that went on in the concentration camps were bad, but I never knows the extent of it. Night, by Elie Wiesel, took me through the personal experiences of Eliezer. It was amazing to me how the outlook on life from the prisoners' point of view had changed throughout the novel.... When Eliezer and his father had been separated from his mother and sister, they did all they could to remain together....

- Mairin Porpora

One scene in the book that moved me occurred when Elie was in the factory working, and he got in the way of his rampaging boss. His superior then took his anger out on Elie. He beat Elie senseless until he became tired. When Elie returned to his work place, the girl sitting next to him told him in almost perfect German to hold his anger for another day. She gave him words of comfort. What surprised Elie was all this time he thought she could speak only French. The event moved me because, even though they were in possibly the worst place on earth, there were still people who cared to help another person.

- Neil Posillico

After reading Night, I realized how much of the human spirit can be destroyed. I never knew how the Nazis had calculated a plan for dehumanization of the Jews. In the beginning of the book, the people have the strength to resist by praying, staying together, and having a will to live. As time progresses, Elie finds that he can no longer, and has no desire, to defend or help himself or his family or save himself from the beatings. At the end of the book, when Mr. Wiesel has severe dysentery, he wishes he could be rid of his own father, something he vowed he could and would never do.

[ Auschwitz I ]
Auschwitz I

Elie was numb.... I could never imagine losing all hope and faith for life and, most of all, having no family left at the age of fifteen.

- Alexandra Reihing

Alexandra, I agree that it's up to everyone to find their own purpose in life. Obviously, some camp prisoners were more successful in this process than others. I think the main difference between the prisoners with integrity and those without it is whether they saw themselves as the ultimate end or whether they recognized a purpose greater than themselves.

The prisoners who did not betray their comrades must have found some higher value -- be it religion, family, friendship, or something out. The problem arises when one is called upon to die for a value (for example, the old man whose son decided not to wait for him during the death march, to increase is chance of survival).

Clearly, there are times when abandoning one's values is better for the preservation of one's life. The catch is that one is forced to live without those values. It seems to me that people who sacrifice their lives for their beliefs do it no so much for the good it may accomplish, but because they know that they would be unable to live the meaningless life they would be left with if they "sold out...."

- Yves Chretien

I learned that the Nazis put Jews and other prisoners in charge of different blocks. I didn't know that Catholics were killed in the Holocaust or who Dr. Mengele was. I never know that the prisoners had to move from camp to camp. When Elie was in the cattle car going to Buchenwald, Germans were throwing food at the Jews. I will never forget how the son killed his own father for a piece of bread. The some was so dehumanized that he had no feelings for his own family.

During the death march, Rabbi Eliahou's son abandoned him. The passages which describe how much the relationships between fathers and sons had changed moved me the most. I may never understand why the sons did what they did because I have never been through their horrible experiences.

- Laura Roche

I learned about the death march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald. I didn't know there was such a thing. It's pretty horrible. I learned exactly how people were choses for death and about the selection process....

There were two things that struck me about the book Night. One is that, if Elie and his father had stayed, they would simply have been liberated by the Russians. His father could have survived. The second was the part where the boy killed his father for a piece of bread. It was a very touching scene, especially since it ended with Elie Wiesel saying, "I was only fifteen."

- Scott Goldstein

I learned that the Holocaust dehumanized people so much that they began to think of themselves as worthless. I also learned that fathers and sons fought against each other to survive. I feel that the way people were changed, because of their suffering, was horrible.

The Holocaust brought the destruction of many lives, including the lives of those who survived. No one should ever be put in circumstances that would make him or her think or act in such ways. "The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me" (109) This passage is Elie Wiesel describing his reflection in the mirror....

- Anne Seidensticker

Before I read Night, by Elie Wiesel, I never really understood the dehumanization of the victims. I had always assumed that they stayed together and felt compassion and sympathy for one another. I was surprised to learn that they were so dehumanized that some people began to act only in their own interests, disregarding everyone else. I know this change was not the victims' fault.... I was so sad to read about a boy killing his own father over food. He acted more like an animal than a human being.

- Beth Walker

Before we started reading Night, by Elie Wiesel, I was already very interested in the Holocaust. Ever since I read The Cage, by Ruth Sender, in eighth grade, the entire Holocaust has boggled my mind. I find it very intriguing to learn about the Holocaust and those who survived....

I have long learned that, although I sometimes take certain things in my life for granted, I truly live a life filled with many wonderful pleasures.... Now, I think twice before complaining about a slight headache or even the cold weather. These were considered to be the slightest of worries to victims of the Holocaust. But what I have learned over these past few weeks and what has remained in my mind ever since, is the true dedication and courage of Elie Wiesel. He had an everlasting desire to stay alive and to secure a strong relationship with his father. He acted as a role model for everyone.

- Lindsay Schuville

...In this unit, I learned more about the horrible discrimination the Jews faced and the way their lives were completely uprooted. Elie Wiesel's Night gave me a better idea of what ghetto life was like. From Elie Wiesel's Night, I have also learned about the ways Jews dealt with the Holocaust emotionally. I learned about the importance of remaining hopeful and loyal to their people. Elie Wiesel also depicted the incredible strains that were constantly be endured and how the Jews never really had a clear idea about what would happen to them. They were calmed or scared by stories concerning their futures, stories which were passed around the ghettos and concentration camps.

In watching Schindler's List, I saw a more visual account of the Holocaust, which had a great impact on me. I will apply my knowledge of the Holocaust to the things that I see going on in the world today. I will stay aware of what happens and will remember all of the people who suffer. My knowledge also helps me to appreciate my life and be thankful for the privileges which I have been granted.

- Olivia Racanelli

...This year, I have learned new stories of the Holocaust. The touching acts of Janusz Korczak, the poems by Charles Fishman, and my work on the HGP have added a new dimension to my Holocaust studies. I feel that with each new personal account I hear, I gain a deeper understanding of that terrible time in history.

Janusz Korczak had tremendous courage during a time of stress. I don't know if I could have acted the way he did. I admire his strength and good will.

Charles Fishman wrote strong poems, but his stories, which accompanied each piece, gave me more insight into the situations.

Because of the HGP, I learned the stories of Evelyn Pike Rubin, Tom Lantos, and Raoul Wallenberg. Each time I hear another story, I become more connected to the facts. With this knowledge, I will continue to share the stories of the Holocaust with others. I know that, when I have children, I will make sure they are aware of this terrible period. It is very important that we never forget about the plight of the Jews.

Though this period is in the future, I will continue to act now. I am a member of the HGP in order to spread the word. I also plan to visit the concentration camps at some point in my life, in order to show that I will not forget. I hope that other people will take similar courses of action, so that the world will not forget!

- Shira Tydings

...Now, after reading Wiesel's Night, I know more about the Holocaust. I learned about how many Jews were forced to trek miles from concentration camp to concentration camp. I learned that the only way for them to survive was to have hope that they would find their families or that the Allied troops would liberate them.

I learned about how family members would turn on each other just to get a small piece of bread. I learned about how the Jews set up councils in the ghettos. It made me think about how petty my problems are compared to what the Jews had to face.

One part of Nightwhich particularly stuck out was when the Jews were leaving for the camps, and few of their belongings went along with them. They were real people to me, and when Elie's family moved into their relatives' house, everything there was left unfinished. I could picture the Jews there, but they were not their anymore. I will always remember that passage when Elie is describing that house. From this book, I learned some of the personal experiences that the Jews endured in the Holocaust, which will affect me forever.

- Katie Wells

Having read The Cage and sections of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and having participated in class discussions (English and social studies), we felt we had a fair background on the Holocaust. We were aware, however, that there was a vast amount of information about which we know nothing.

The greatest lesson we have learned from our reading Night, and having class discussions is not about information; we have gained a greater understanding of the torment and torture, the loss of life and property, and have gained a greater comprehension and remorse for the unspeakable acts which occurred.

With this knowledge, as we have done in the past, we will continue to speak out against antisemitism, and we will protest prejudice of any and every kind.

Now that we have explored the Holocaust sites on the Web, we will continue to check out the newest information, partake in discussions, and look for news updates on available and accessible activities (such as conferences, seminars, and exhibits).

- Marguret Wenk and Kelly Grace

Night assisted in furthering my knowledge of the Holocaust and deepened my compassion for the Jews. When I read the book, I tried to put myself in Wiesel's place. His love for his father and his inner strength were two qualities that seemed to keep him alive. Could I have been strong and survived the horrors of the Holocaust? I wondered, if I had been there, could I have done that? I don't know and, because of that fact, I respect him and other survivors.

In addition to reading Night, I read For Those I Loved, by Martin Gray, The Chosen and Seed of Sarah, by Judith Magyar Isaacson. In class, we also watched documentaries and read many short stories about the Holocaust....

I now realize how precious a morsel of bread and life itself are.... I think Night has many things to teach us. All we have to do is listen with our hearts....

- Bethany Robertson

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