Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and author of works such as “Night” and “The Oath,” passed away this weekend at the age of 87. His death comes as a blow to those who appreciate a hard but honest eye for history. Still, his writings live on as a testament to the human spirit and a lesson in the importance of true independence. To Americans, freedom is sacred. We’re damn lucky to live in a country where we can voice our opinions and freely express our beliefs. We also know that there are other nations that don’t hold such a value in high regard. For many of us Wiesel’s work is a grim reminder of the atrocities of ages past. It’s also a glimpse into the spirit of a true survivor, and a reminder that humanity can overcome even its darkest days.
Night’s a tough read. Though short, the content is enough to shake even the toughest folks you’ll meet. There are images of children being used for target practice, the dreaded gas chambers, and death marches through ice and snow as stragglers are shot. The protagonist, based on Wiesel, loses his faith and his family. Though critics call it a work of fiction, saying that a work which conjures empathy is unable to be classified as true, there is undoubtable conviction in his words. The following works, Dawn and Day, detail Israel’s freedom from outside incursion and look back on World War II respectively. They are widely regaled as the apex of Holocaust Literature, and revealed to people across the world just what kind of horrors Jews and others faced during their time under the Nazi regime. It’s required reading under a lot of curriculums, something that has pissed off a fair number of types who think kids should be spared from its graphic nature. Those people are too busy trying to shelter their children from the evils of the world to realize that such lessons are necessary. People need to be aware of history’s great evils in order to prevent its resurgence.
“I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead, and anyone that does not remember betrays them again.”
Still, there is hope in Wiesel’s story. A man who should have been dead at 16 living to the ripe age of 87, having children of his own, and spreading the word of vigilance. To survive in such conditions, maintaining a sense of strength and purpose despite going through Hell, speaks volumes to the power of human will. When night has fallen and all hope seems lost, day will break. Holocaust survivors were tempered in a raging inferno, going on to help found a nation that’s routinely brought up as a power player. If nothing else, Wiesel shows us that the human spirit can overcome anything.
Freedom is difficult. Ask anyone with a shred of decency and they’ll know ours came by the strength of men that were willing to fight and die for liberty and freedom from oppression. Lives are a terrible cost to pay for one’s basic human rights. This is even more so when the lives lost are those of innocents — people who never had a chance to raise their hands in defiance before they were put in camps and slaughtered like cattle. The process of coming back from an event that killed millions, scarring many others along the way, is unbelievable. The process of remembering those who are lost, and preventing such travesties from occurring again, is much simpler.
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky…”
In memory of Wiesel, and those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom of many, may we also never forget..
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