Elie Wiesel’s Identity and Faith in Auschwitz

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Elie Wiesel wrote the book Night to account for his experiences inside the Nazi concentration camps. He was just 15 years old when his family and other Jews were sent to Auschwitz, an extermination camp during the Second World War (Wiesel 36). Wiesel was subjected to inhumane conditions, which made him struggle to preserve his Jewish identity. Wiesel was a Jew born in Romania, whose hometown of Sighet had been occupied by Hungarian forces during the war. All the Jews of Sighet were forced to leave their home and transported by cattle wagons to Auschwitz. The challenges that he and other Jews faced in the concentration camps made Wiesel and others question their view and belief of God and struggle to preserve their Jewish identity.

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Wiesel’s inhumane experiences in Auschwitz were a test of his faith. In Sighet, Wiesel was a deeply religious boy who believed in God. However, when he is taken to a concentration camp, his faith is tested and destroyed in the holocaust. During his time at Auschwitz, he witnessed many terrible things happen to innocent people who had faith in God but were not saved. Such experiences began to erode Wiesel’s belief. One day when working at Buna, everyone was forced to watch the hanging of a child, and someone asked “for God’s sake, where is God?” (Wiesel 23). The killing of an innocent Jewish person by the Nazis was detrimental to their religious identity. The Jewish had a strong faith in God and expected his help amid all their struggles. The torture they went through at the camps was affecting their belief in God. Innocent people were being forced to attend the slaughter of their own. Many devout Jews endured such a death under the watch of their families and friends (Nicosia and Scrase 11). The relationship between man and God deteriorated when they saw a human creature being humiliated in ways that were inconceivable to the heart or the mind.

In the beginning, Wiesel’s belief and faith are a product of his Jewish studies, which has taught him that God is everywhere, and nothing exists without God. He had grown up believing that everything on Earth was a reflection of God’s power and holiness. Weisel’s beliefs and faith were the sources of his self-identity. He was beginning to understand the difference between life and death. When his father was reciting the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead by Jewish people, Wiesel asked, “I don’t know whether, during the history of the Jewish people, men have ever before recited Kaddish for themselves” (Wiesel 58). He was ready to die and expected his life to end in the concentration camps. He even considered throwing himself on the electric fence, instead of waiting to be tortured and killed by the Nazis. The view of death as an alternative contributed to the deteriorating relationship between man and God. Wiesel was already destroyed internally, and this had been contributed by the dissolution of the self that was caused by the questioning of some of the Jewish beliefs such as the Kaddish.

Weisel struggled to retain his faith in a benevolent God due to his trials and struggle to retain his identity at the concentration camp. His sister and mother were gassed to death, while his father died helplessly at Buchenwald. He had been made to endure forced labor in the concentration camps. During his time at the camp, he witnessed many things happen to innocent people who had faith in God, but their belief did not save them. The Nazis were seeking to expunge every element of Jewish identity from Europe by shaming them and robbing them of their hope for existence (Routledge). Among the German’s ways of dehumanizing the Jews and destroying their identity was giving the prisoners new code names. In Night, all inmates are told to roll up their left sleeves and get a new identity. Weisel writes, “The three “veteran” prisoners, needles in hand, tattooed numbers on our left arms. I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name” (67). Weisel and other Jews lost their identity when they entered the concentration camps. Their detention was the start of a quest to understand life and God. Most of the Jews were losing their faith because they could no longer relate to what was happening to them with the wishes of God. They felt that God had left them to face torture and die in the camps.

Weisel and the Jews people lost their faith and identity during their detention at Nazi concentration camps. The holocaust that happened at the camps should never be repeated. Even if it was during World War 2, the Jews endured pain and torture that no other group of persons should ever face. The experiences of Weisel and his people were a reminder of how humanity can once come indifferent against each other. The Night is necessary reading and not because it offers a chilling account of the horrendous acts of the Nazis but also on the impact that it had on the mental, physical and emotional well-being of the Jews people who were innocent. Wiesel’s observations depict a sad time for the Jews and himself. To forget the killings at the camps would be both offensive and dangerous in a world that tries to learn from its past failures.

Works Cited

Routledge, Julia. “Night: Elie Wiesel’s Memoir and How It Preserved the Jewish Identity.” The Guardian, 2017, Web.

Weisel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang; London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1960.

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Nicosia, Francis R., and David Scrase. Jewish Life in Nazi Germany: Dilemmas and Responses. New York: Berghahn Books, 2010.

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