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With some stories, as a reader, you know from the first sentence that this is going to be nothing less than a heart-churning experience that will reach your soul and there remain for many, many years. You know this. Your body alerts you to this prophetic knowledge by coming over entirely with a palpable wash of frightened anticipation.
This is one of those stories. You will know, before anything has happened, as if before anything was even written, that you must take great care not to dismiss or forget what is about to happen. You must Pay Attention.
You might remember the recent death of the author, Elie Wiesel, last year. Night is the autobiographical account of his hellish stay, along with his father, in a string of Nazi concentration camps at the time of the Holocaust. He was 15 when the Jewish community in his town of Sighet, Transylvania, was ghettoised, and then marched into cattle cars and driven away, first to Birkenau, and then to Auschwitz, and several further camps after that.
All the while as those around him — hundreds, thousands, millions, men, women, children — passed through the fires of the ‘chimneys’, the crematoriums that were used to kill the Jewish people.
Wiesel’s father died near to the end of their time imprisoned, but Wiesel survived. He would go on to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his life’s work fighting against all forms of systemic oppression and hatred. His writing here, only a short novel, is clear and careful, and beautifully intelligent. He narrated this nightmare because he knew that he must “bear witness.” He writes in the preface, “Others will never know. But would they at least understand?” And that is why he must be read, so that this will never happen again.