‘Night’, by Elie Wiesel, describes the protagonist’s horrifying tale of experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. Till date, these events remain one of the most shocking cases of dehumanization, that has ashamed all of mankind. This article speaks about the examples of dehumanization in this book.
Humankind thrives on coexistence. Man is a social animal, and in order to survive, we depend on each other. As humans, our basic right is to be free and live a life as per our choice. But what if some section of people believe themselves to be superficial, and others not even fit to be called humans? History has many such tales to cite. However, one of the most horrifying tales is the atrocities carried out against the Jews, besides others, in the Nazi concentration camps run by the Germans. Elie Weasel was one of the survivors of the most horrifying chapters in the history of mankind – most gory cases of dehumanization. The details of the dehumanization process described in the book will give anyone goose bumps. In this book, titled ‘Night‘, he has described his experiences with his father at the concentration camps, where they were forced to work as laborers, with complete denial of basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter.
The protagonist, Eliezer, as a young teenager, was a person with utmost religious faith. After the rise of the Nazis, the Jews in his town were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was separated from his mother and sisters. Throughout the torture carried out in the camp, he survived with his father. However, he was completely transformed as a person. His belief in God and humanity was shattered as he lived through those horrifying experiences.
The Jews were transported to the concentration camps in cattle cars, in the most inhumane way. There was very less air to breathe, no space to move, and it embarked the start of the atrocities ahead, which many of them were not aware of. This showed the utter disregard as human beings towards the Jews by the Germans. Being transported like animals, was enough to prove that they were nothing less than bodies to be used by the Germans.
Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words. Yet, that was the moment when I left my mother. There was no time to think, and already I felt my father’s hand press against mine: we were alone. In a fraction of a second I could see my mother and my sisters move to the right. Tzipora was holding Mother’s hand. I saw them walking farther and farther away; Mother was stroking my sister’s blond hair, as if to protect her. And I walked on with my father, with the men. I didn’t know that this was the moment in time and the place where I was leaving my mother and Tzipora forever. I kept walking, my father holding my hand.
This was one of the most difficult experiences for the protagonist, as these words simply meant that he would be seeing his family for the last time. After his release, he came to know that his mother and youngest sister were gassed, whereas, the other two sisters managed to survive. The only thought after being separated from his family was not to get separated from his father. In the gruesome selection process, the Nazi officers simply discarded those who were unfit and seen as useless creatures, to be dumped, and the others were forced to work.
They were stripped off their clothes, shaved, and washed inhumanely. The Nazis simply humiliated them by stripping them off their dignity. The dead were dumped like garbage, and not even given a decent burial. This indicated the extent of dehumanization in their minds.
All the possessions of the Jews were confiscated – jewelry, money, clothes, everything. Even those who had a golden tooth were ordered to have it removed. They were denied their basic rights as an individual. The protagonist describes how his golden tooth was forcibly removed with a rusty spoon.
The worst case of dehumanization is taking off someone’s human identity and reducing them to mere bodies that were forced to work as laborers, often tortured and tattooed with numbers. These numbers made them identity-less. And the protagonist says he lost all connection with the world, with the number A-7713 as the only identity that remained of him.
I had done well to forget that. And I was glad that Rabbi Eliahou should continue to look for his beloved son. And, in spite of myself, a prayer rose in my heart, to that God in whom I no longer believed. My God, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done.
The highest level of dehumanization happens when, in a bid to survive, the Jews forget their relationships, just to save themselves. In an instance, he sees a son fleeing from his father so that he can survive. The protagonist too lives with this guilt for the rest of his life, stating that he did not protect him when he was killed due to his sickness.
The Jews left all disregard for themselves, and started treating each other like animals. Even the dead were disrespected, and were stripped off their clothes, in order to cover the bodies of the living, leaving the dead in the snow.
Children, the epitome of innocence, can melt the toughest heart, but not for the Nazis. They witness the slow, painful death of a young boy, too light in weight, who was hanged, and struggled for his life till he died. That night, the protagonist loses complete faith in God, and states that even the soup tastes of the corpses. Babies are tossed in the air and made targets like flying birds.
“Usually, very early in the morning. German laborers were going to work. They would stop and look at us without surprise. One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker watched the spectacle with great interest. Years later, I witnessed a similar spectacle in Aden. Our ship’s passengers amused themselves by throwing coins to the “natives,” who dove to retrieve them. An elegant Parisian lady took great pleasure in this game. When I noticed two children desperately fighting in the water, one trying to strangle the other, I implored the lady: “Please, don’t throw any more coins!” “Why not?” said she. “I like to give charity…”
Forced to work, they were ill-fed, with only a bowl of soup and a piece of bread to survive on. So pitiful was their condition, that inmates fought among themselves for a piece of bread. To add to the inhumanity, they were teased for their plight, and the Germans amused themselves with these scenes. Mankind had certainly lost all feelings of compassion.
The dehumanization process not only affected them physically, but also psychologically. They were made to believe that they were nothing more than animals, and were mistreated in the cruelest forms possible. Those who were unfit were killed immediately without having any second thought. The only escape to this suffering was death. So deep was the hatred in the minds of the Germans against the Jews, that they had no existence as human beings. Their life had been reduced to mere a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. The world can identify the Holocaust as one of the most gruesome killings in the history of mankind. Like Elie Weasel, some were fortunate enough to tell the tale, to bear testimony of a deep pain in the hearts of many who lost their dear ones. Such cruelty and deep hatred is something that will remain to be a blot in the history of mankind, forever.