Read Night by Elie Weisel the other week for the first time, and it was the discussion topic for our Humanist group meeting last night. Many people in the Chicago-area have read it recently. Every once in a while Mayor Daley identifies a book, and encourages people to read it. Last time it was To Kill a Mockingbird, this time - Night.

What were your reactions to the book?

I was surprised at a couple of aspects of my reaction. For one, I was surprised to find myself thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound as bad as I expected.” Part of that may be due to Weisel’s sparse, objectivist style. And I readily admit that what he went through was horrendous. But I’m wondering about what contributed to my forming a mental image of a situation that was even worse than the one Weisel describes?

Second, when people discussed what lessons about human nature we could learn from the book, I found myself wondering how representative Weisel’s experiences and reactions were. It is pretty obvious that Weisel is an exceptional person. Which was more “human,” Weisel’s perspective, or the person who would become a kapo and brutalize his fellow inmates to improve his chances of personal survival, or somewhere in between?

Can you sum up in a sentence or two a lesson about humanity that you got from this book?

I’ll offer that man is basically a brutish species primarily concerned with individual survival, encased within an awfully thin veneer of civility.

One of the reasons that NIGHT has been used (especially for teenagers) is exactly that he does not dwell on or specify all the horrors of the Nazi death camps. He describes his personal experiences, and he did not witness the full range of horror, and that makes the book a bit “easier” to take.

Wow, your mayor sounds cool.
Along with visiting Holocaust museums (including the one in Washington, D.C.), meeting Holocaust survivors, etc., my entire grade read “Night” in high school. While I don’t think I could sum it up, there is one thing about it that has stuck with me- when Elie had the choice to stay at the camp or leave, he chose to leave, going on to another camp. He later learned that, had he stayed, he would have been freed the next day.