Night by Elie Wiesel
Lately I’ve recalled reading the small memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. Something troubling in today’s current political scene brought it to mind. I believe I last read it when in high school, but the story has never let me go. If it happened then, it could happen now. The way evil creeps up and grips you by the throat. No one ever imagined it would happen.
I remember in 2015 standing on the grassy bank of Lake Michigan laughing with a friend about the clumsy, cloddy candidate Trump. What a train wreck! Now here he is president of the United States, and no one’s laughing.
That’s what struck me the most when re-reading Night, no one saw it coming. It began so incrementally. Civil rights nibbled away. Further and further restrictions. Moving back into the ghetto. Forced to quit school, hide. Back then they assured themselves that this won’t be forever, just as we tell ourselves that we can put up with anything for “four years.”
As a fifteen year old reading Night I truly believed, Never Again. Today in the headlines we read about Jewish cemeteries desecrated, bomb threats at Jewish community centers, at the latest press conference a Jewish journalist told by President Trump to sit down and shut up. Now I’m not so sure.
And who will I be—the woman peeking out between closed shutters as people are rounded up, marched down the street to be deported? The one who observes the yellow star and does nothing? The burner of books?
When I was in third grade a classmate’s mother spoke to our class. She talked about the camps—at first I was confused. Camp was something you went to for the summer, where you hiked and rode horseback and made crafts out of Popsicle sticks. Friendship bracelets. The woman’s eyes were sharp and black, piercing. Even her voice had a shriek to it. I looked over at my classmate and wondered if perhaps she might be a little embarrassed, if she wished her mom would shut up and sit down. The woman related a tale of endless walking, of eating a crust of bread, of licking up even dropped crumbs, always death. When the woman did sit down I could see her visibly shaking. What is it? I wondered then, this thing that still breathed fear into her.
Night is more relevant today than it’s ever been.
|in camp, next to post|
|as a young man in Paris|