Jewish People in Memoir Night Essay Example

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  • Published: 12 May 2021
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The history of persecutions against Judaism is often justified as a test from God; however, the Nazi Party’s Final Commencement in 1933 that executed six million Jews created doubt on his God’s justice inside of Eliezer Wiesel. As a young teenager pursuing his faith in God, Wiesel witnesses his security in the peaceful town of Sighet being torn apart, and he struggles to comprehend the reason for his presence in the Auschwitz concentration camp. As the world war  and God’s silence continues, Wiesel’s confusion is directed towards understanding God’s authority as the true divinity. Witnessing the anti-semitism and the hanging of a child in the camp, Wiesel’s religious relationship becomes unsteady as he suffers through months of tribulations. As Eliezer Wiesel transitions from Sighet into the concentration camps, documented in his memoir Night, his devoted faith transforms into a feeling of abandonment that influence his emotions and mentality. 

Young Eliezer Wiesel is described to be deeply devoted to the mysteries of his Jewish God and curious about the unanswerable questions of his faith. Despite only being thirteen years old, he is diligent in his studies and his entire day revolves around studying the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish law and theology. Eliezer reveals his religious routine dedicating his time in understanding the history of God: “I was almost thirteen and deeply observant. By day I studied Talmud and by night I would run to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple” (3). By doing this deep devotion by choice, Eliezer is demonstrating his commitment to his faith when other activities are available to him.

By night, running to the synagogue exhibits his eagerness to ponder and grieve over the ancient destruction of the Temple, which occurred centuries prior to World War II. Weeping over a destroyed building centuries in the past shows that this building holds significance to Eliezer and his religion. As Mauriac describes, “From the time he began to think, [Eliezer] lived only for God, studying the Talmud, eager to be initiated into the Kabbalah, wholly dedicated to the Almighty” (Mauriac xix). Therefore, Wiesel is greatly interested in discovering and dedicating his life to God. Despite his focus, Eliezer still encounters problems and questions surrounding his faith. Living in the small town of Sighet, he is unable to find a master to guide in his studies to further understand God’s mysticism. Eliezer expresses his discontent to Moishe the Beadle: “One evening, I told him how unhappy I was not to be able to find in Sighet a master to teach me the Zohar, the Kabbalistic works, the secrets of Jewish mysticism” (5).

At his teenage age, Eliezer’s willingness to aspire a teacher to guide him in his religious studies displays Wiesel’s devotion and interest to Judaism. His enthusiasm to uncover the mysteries of the Jewish faith is illustrated by his pursued efforts to deepen his studies. As a young teenage boy living in Sighet, Eliezer is resolute on committing to his faith to uncover his questions.

Once arriving at a concentration camp, Eliezer’s interest and adoration towards God’s wonders begins to shift to questioning God’s silence as he faces the horrors of the Holocaust. When Wiesel realizes the cruel deaths at the camp he is placed at, he begins to doubt God’s justice and asks why God is not preventing his people’s suffering: 

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 Him for? [...] against my will, I found myself whispering the words: “Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba … May His name be exalted and sanctified.” (33)

For the first time, Eliezer begins to express resentment against God, an emotion that is contrastingly different to his dedication before the camps. He repeatedly asks why God stays silent when his people are being unjustly killed and why the Jewish people deserve this harsh punishment. As a result, Eliezer’s curiosity to discover God’s wonders changes into a questioning of God’s justice. Yet, despite this newfound anger and shock, Eliezer’s faith is still present and shown when he begins reciting a prayer to God. Wiesel is confused on why God is ignoring the existence of ‘death camps.’ His contrasting actions reveal the beginnings of his turmoil through understanding his religion and his God. 

Eliezer and many other victims at the camp question the presence and power of their God when being forced to observe public executions. After witnessing the painful hanging of a child suffering to die quickly, Wiesel finds himself answering a question that has no definite answer: “Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows…’ That night, the soup tasted of corpses” (65). In this scene, the people gathered and looking at the child’s suffering, like Eliezer, ask “Where is God?” In Wiesel’s eyes, the death of a young child accused of thievery without solid evidence represents the end of God as well.

He finds himself answering a question he often asks to himself, and this response shifts his faith farther away from his past when he was a free and devoted student. Eliezer’s Holocaust surroundings “can be the outcome of no God at all. It can also be the result of a God who creates, and it can even be linked to a God who watches over and intervenes in history. [...] In witnessing the death of a child, Wiesel suggests that to be with God is to encounter a silent presence—perhaps beyond good and evil, beyond love—who gives life only to leave us alone” (Roth 35). Eliezer’s conflicted confusion, as Roth explains, has justified God’s presence as a mere creator giving birth to humanity, not as a merciful liberator. There are many possibilities on the existence of God, and Wiesel's’ past perception that God was constantly around him tries to grasp the reason to his suffering and tries to understand the definition of God’s “justice.” Eliezer, unable to find guidance, seeks to answer his own questions.

Overtime, Eliezer Wiesel finds his resentment being directed to a God he previously admired with great respect. During a service praising God’s salvation, Eliezer begins to ponder and judge the abilities of mankind and God. Unable to comprehend the reason for their torment in the camps, Eliezer concludes that God does not deserve these praises of honor: 

And I, the former mystic, was thinking: Yes, man is stronger, greater than God. When Adam and Eve deceived You, You chased them from paradise. [...] But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. [...] I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger. (67-68)

Transitioning past his phase of perplexity, Eliezer angrily begins to establish reasoning that man is stronger than a divine entity; as a matter of fact, God’s is pride is actually disguised as justice. His past commitment to God becomes a rebellious acknowledgement: He did not have to suffer through these tragedies; therefore, humanity, or Eliezer, is the accuser to accuse God. Eliezer believes he has the right to be the adjudicator, not God, for he is “stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long.” Wiesel, admitting his change, begins to feel like a stranger to the faith he had once placed his whole life focus into. 

The last day of the Jewish year arrives and many try to seek hope in the midst of adversity; however, Eliezer deviates his attention to solely on surviving at the cost of his faith. On the day of Yom Kippur, Wiesel decides between his physical needs and his religious instinct. Believing there was no use for wasting a precious source of energy, Wiesel disregards his religious practices for the first time as he considers his actions: “I did not fast. First of all, to please my father who had forbidden me to do so. And then, there was no longer any reason for me to fast. I no longer accepted God’s silence. As I swallowed my ration of soup, I turned that act into symbol of rebellion, of protest against Him” (69). Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday that has been practiced for thousands of years; therefore, Eliezer’s refusal to partake in this religious fasting is a major turning point in his faith’s transformation.

His past acts of rebellion have only been mental or verbal declarations, but this action is the first physical declaration of protest against God. His explanation for his rejection was not only for rebellion but also for survival because “Yom Kippur was to take a step closer to death since in the camp every day was a fast; to accuse oneself of fault on the Day of Atonement seemed to reverse the natural order of existence. [...] one does not call for repentance or forgiveness, not even on Yom Kippur [...] its attendant responsibility is to hasten one’s physical and psychical death” (Cunningham 27). Eliezer’s rebellion was an act to rebuke God but also to increase the chances of his survival. The decision to make on Yom Kippur, as Cunningham states, is between choosing guilt for betraying God or choosing a step closer to death. After several pleas to God for mercy in the past, Eliezer prioritizes his survival over his faith in God. His first act of physical rebellion creates a resentful hollowing emotion of inside of him.

Once the heated resentment has left, Eliezer Wiesel realizes his faith is still there; however, he is left alone to acknowledge God’s abandonment of his people months before the end of World War II. After encountering Rabbi Eliahu searching for his lost son, Eliezer remembers the death of the rabbi’s son next to him moments before. He concludes that the death of Rabbi Eliahu’s son was intentional in order to get rid of his own father. Afraid of becoming the rabbi’s son, Wiesel finds himself saying a prayer: “And in spite of myself, a prayer formed inside me, a prayer to this God whom I no longer believed. ‘Oh God, Master of the Universe, give me the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahu’s son has done’” (91). This prayer, after several weeks of refusing God’s existence, establishes the fact that Eliezer does not believe God is dead nor nonexistent. Instead, he believes God has abandoned the Jews dying in the concentration camps. Abandonment or betrayal revolves around one party being left alone; therefore, Eliezer is patient and waiting for the end of his suffering, not the end of his faith. However, receiving no signs of his God generates this emptiness inside of his dim hope. God’s abandonment proves His lack of action, not His death, and Wiesel believes that God is alive but silent. Eliezer, despite still believing in God’s existence, is left to acknowledge the betrayal of God towards His people.  

After the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp, Eliezer Wiesel and many other prisoners of the Holocaust are released to go back to their previous lives; however, the changes in many people’s lives have affected their entire reason to live, Eliezer included. For the first time in several months, Eliezer glances at a mirror only to see his debilitated body glancing back at himself. He reflects the differences of his past thirteen year old body to his current physical conditions: “I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me” (115). This final reminder of the events of the Holocaust haunt him like a corpse because of his physical, mental, and religious changes. The ending note of his experiences is not portrayed in a positive light, but rather a dim and haunting reminder of abandonment.

Although Buchenwald camp had been liberated by American troops, Eliezer does not feel any sense of spiritual freedom; instead, the Holocaust has deprived Wiesel of himself, his loved ones, and his God. The corpse staring back at Eliezer in the mirror reminds him of the feeling of loneliness because “he does not believe that freedom has been provided by the God of Exodus. [...] Eliezer is no longer a captive at the end of the novel, but Wiesel offers no hint of any physical or spiritual rebirth. The novel’s final image is of Eliezer looking into a mirror and seeing a corpse stare back at him. Night is the tale of painful death, not of liberation and rebirth” (Tackach 3). The Holocaust and the cruel anti-semitism expressed in the camps has bereaved Eliezer from a sense of comfort and deliverance, a contrast to the biblical Exodus recorded in the Old Testament.

The Israelites and Wiesel experience trials of imprisonment in different eras; however, the Israelites’ emancipation from Egypt is with God’s guidance leading them to their promised land, while Eliezer’s emancipation from Buchenwald is left with a feeling of betrayal without God. The end of his life in the concentration camps does not begin with a rebirth of his faith. Eliezer Wiesel, once a young boy with devoted curiosity, fades into an empty and betrayed corpse without religious liberation. 

In the memoir Night, Eliezer Wiesel’s devoted admiration of his God changes into a distaste of betrayal that affects his emotions and thoughts as he suffers through the Holocaust. 

Before realizing the reality of World War II, Eliezer Wiesel stayed safely in Sighet and dedicated his time to understanding God’s mysticism; however, once brought to Auschwitz, Wiesel’s faith strains into questioning God’s silence and the rationality behind these concentration camps. Although he never stopped to believe there was no supreme being, Wiesel began to turn to resentment and rebellion to provoke a reaction from God, but the desperation was left with a lingering feeling of abandonment and a hollow body after his liberation in April 1945.

Eliezer, at only fifteen years old, is forced to suffer through months of unjustified abuses that ultimately results in changing his faith. Many believe this horrendous event in history as “God’s test of Israel’s love and obedience. [...] Wiesel rejects this explanation of the Holocaust [...] These solutions were ultimately ineffective in lessening his suffering” (Berenbaum 21). Unable to comprehend the reasoning for his suffering, Wiesel does not believe this to be a test of his faith after his years of devotion solely to God. His faith shattered upon realizing the deaths of young children and is unable to be repaired to its past form. For many Jewish people, the Second World War created an insecurity in holding onto God for his mercy and authority.

 

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