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Loss of Humanity, Ultimate Evil in Elie Wiesel's 'Night'
Elie Wiesel's Night challenges the reader to examine the worth of a human life in a variety of sick and twisted circumstances. While the memoir's purpose is most certainly to share a tale of great anguish with a wider audience, the story also provides a glimpse into human ethics and morals in an extreme setting not seen before or since the second world war. These extreme conditions show how, when pushed too far, humans are completely capable of atrocities that rival the evil deeds they themselves suffered at the hands of the Nazis. This irony is highly disturbing and it should be noted that while the Nazi's put these people in the position to commit these horrible acts, they did not directly force the action.
There is a definite parallel between the severity of the Jewish crimes and their treatment at the hands of the Nazis. In the beginning, as in the cattle car section, the Jews are treated very badly but things could have been worse. Along the same lines, their treatment of Ms. Schachter was quite uncalled for and harsh, but it could have been worse. These supposedly highly religious and moral Jews had stooped low enough to beat one of their own women unconscious while her young son clung to her arm simply because she was being too loud while they tried to sleep. The treatment of the Jews by the Nazis obviously had some kind of osmotic effect on the prisoners since it took them less than one night to abandon their humanity and beat a defenseless woman-some cheering the act as it happened.
As the treatment of the Jews gets worse, so do their own actions. After their time at Birkenau, the prisoners were in very bad shape. All were starving, but some more than others. At this point, one of the young men kills his own father for his ration of bread and is then promptly surrounded and killed by some of the more disgusted Jews who had seen the crime. While the justice administered by the other Jews is a sign of humanity hanging by a thread in the minds and hearts of the prisoners, the young man who killed his own father signifies as much of a tendency in the opposite direction. The populace has gone from beating a woman senseless to murdering their own parents to survive. While some would argue that the goal of survival could possibly justify the means, the effect the Nazis are having on the minds of the Jews cannot be ignored.
The run through the snow with the SS provides the Jews with a perfect opportunity to abandon all sense of Good and become truly evil beings, and one young Jew takes the chance wholeheartedly. While running, the young man sees his father falling behind and knows that it is his responsibility to stay with him for encouragement and even for protection-since falling down would mean death. Instead, the young Jew opts to ignore his father's plight and feels a great weight lift from his shoulders. Essentially, the son condemned the father to death in hopes that his own chances of survival would be greater without the old man. This is evil incarnate. By abandoning his father after they had come so far together, even before the camps, is a terrible act that puts this man in the same company as the Fuhrer himself. How is this man so different from the boy who killed his father for bread? Secrecy. Manipulation. He gave the impression of a caring son until the moment his father needed him most then left him in such a way that he hoped would keep his dignity intact. That small distinction between the two men, that mal-intent, is what sets them apart.
Seeing the progression of these acts, it is important to note that the Nazis did indeed give the Jews the opportunity and even the excuse to commit these horrible atrocities against their own people but only a select few, only those who had lost their humanity entirely rose to the challenge. The Nazis were guilty of a terrible thing but the Jews who chose to condemn their own people to an early grave are ultimately more responsible for those deaths and more wicked than any Nazi officer.