I re-read Night, in one sitting, on a Sunday in mid-October. I had read it before, many years ago, and did not remember it, which only goes to demonstrate how great insensitivity can be. Though my parents suffered detention throughout the Second World War, I have no experience either of war or forced detention; or, for that matter, of forced labour and debilitating hunger.
There is nothing in my experience that enables me to understand the horror of Auschwitz. Even when I travelled to Dachau I could not truly comprehend the history of what had happened there. I took several ordinary stones from the site, and thought little of what they could represent. When I flew home from Amsterdam, I learned in conversation with the passenger to my right that he was a camp survivor. He implored me, I, who knew nothing, for one of those stones. I of course responded to his wish. This was some forty years ago, yet it has remained acutely vivid in my memory.
The three descriptions in Night that possess me the most are of the pits where humans were burned dead or alive, the babies who were thrown into the air for target practice, and the inmate violinist on the last evening of his life playing the Beethoven concerto over a terrain of corpses, during the forced winter march of prisoners in the perpetual snows from Auschwitz to Buchenwald.
The author’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech of 1986 is appended. In many respects it is an ethical distillation and moral admonition.
“That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices…. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”