The Diary of Anne Frank is an amazing read for those who want to comprehend the activities of Jews during their hiding from Nazi Germany. However, the whole point of the novel is only about hiding behind a bookshelf. Because Anne left her diary in the hiding place when they got captured, we do not know much about what really happened next to these innocent Jewish people. Yes, there is a brief explanation about Anne’s life in the camp, with mainly a few depictions of the terrifying surrounding.. but how terrifying, really, were these Jewish concentration camps? How terrifying was the Holocaust, though? (For those who don’t know, Holocaust was a genocide done by the dictator Adolf Hitler that killed approximately 6 million Jews and many more).
The other day, I read Night (you can also read it here online), a book written by the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. As a religious person, Elie never understands how God was silent throughout the extermination of Jews. He wrote:
“I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. The Almighty chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?”
In the novel, Elie keeps blaming God on His silence, and pleads Him for mercy towards Jewish people who genuinely glorify Him.
Just to put it simply, Nazis in Germany wished to set out to build a society without any Jewish people at all. That was why when Hitler was almost defeated in the world war, he carried out the Final Solution. What’s a Final Solution, you ask — it was when the Nazis turned on their machine guns to shoot more than a million Jews, throwing them into huge mass graves which was dug before by the victims themselves. Can you imagine, digging your own grave before you taste death? That’s how inhumane a person called Adolf Hitler was. The most horrifying thing that can happen to the world is when disciplined, educated uniform-wearing men come to kill the oppressed minority — this happened during Hitler’s reign, and is still happening now, all around the world. History really does repeat itself.
Elie’s life in acrimony started when Germany took over his hometown; Jews had to wear a yellow star as a symbol, and no longer had the right to visit restaurants, travel by train, attend synagogue, or be on the streets after 6 o’clock at night. In 1944 (just about 73 years ago), Elie and his father was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In Auschwitz, his name was not Elie; the name “Elie Wiesel” was changed into a set of number: A-7713. Elie and the other Jews had to work extremely hard with such little amount of food. Since there was barely enough food, all of the Jews were hanging on life with a bowl of soup and stale bread. All of the activities in the camp were dictated with a bell, from morning to night, and guarded with a bunch of German police called the SS. SS officers had no mercy for the prisoners — these officers would shoot, hit, and forced the Jews to bury their own family members. Occasionally, there would be a day called the Selection Day. On that particular day, every Jews had to run around for their lives to show the Germans that they still had strength. Jews who couldn’t finish running would be selected for the gas chamber, where people were gassed to death with dangerous chemical substances. Their decaying body would be thrown away to the crematorium to be burned. The crematorium itself was initially built as Hitler promised to annihilate every living breathing Jews.
Before Elie’s next evacuation from Auschwitz, he broke his leg. He had to choose between evacuating or staying in Auschwitz’s infirmary. In the end, he chose to evacuate with his father to another concentration camp. It was the worst decision, since those who had remained in the infirmary got liberated by the Russians, while Elie and his father had to literally walk in the cold snow for evacuation. The evacuation ended in Gleiweitz’s concentration camp, where everything was the form of a nightmare. Dead bodies were everywhere to the point that it was hard to distinguish between the dead and the living. When the Allies almost won over Germany, the SS officers became more savage than ever — instead of doing the Selection Day, they just killed any Jews who had no strength left to run. The ones who could not keep running would directly get shot, right here and there. In Gleiweitz, the Jews were given no food. Therefore, they depended on grass to fulfill their hunger and snow to quench their thirst (imagine that!). Hunger had made the Jews to become animalistic; they would kill anyone who possessed a stale bread or a soup.
When his father was dying, an SS officer still continuously hit the decaying old man. His father’s last word was Elie’s name; he kept calling Elie for help. Instead of sacrificing his life and rushing to his father’s side, Elie remained silent. The agitation he endured had made Elie become egoistic. He thought that his father’s death would mitigate his burden and increase his chance of survival. Elie chose to be silent — he was afraid of getting killed by the officer. In the following morning, his father’s body was no longer beside him as the corpse had been sent to the crematorium. That was the day Elie made a promise to never forgive himself for his father’s death. He could not describe his life after that day; those days no longer existed or mattered.
This whole literature makes me forget about my own life struggle, my petty problems. The novel was titled Night, because the Jews literally had to live one “last night” to another — the last night at home, the last night in the ghetto, the last night in the cattle car, the last night in concentration camp. The saddest part about the novel is the conversations told by the Jews; they always end up with triple dots (…), as if they had no strength left to finish the conversation, which was terminated by death. Death was assumed as something mandatory for the Jews to do; it was their damned fate (remember, they were even forced to dig their own graves!). At one point, Elie asked his father:
“This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”
This question makes me realize how the whole genocide happened in such a modern period (the twentieth century, with Hollywood and all). I understand the confusion of Elie, who at that time might be thinking, “How does the history repeat itself? This is just like the time when Native Americans got killed by white people”. Maybe for us, who are currently living in 2017, all of this seem old. Ancient history. Doesn’t matter anymore. But remember, history always repeats itself — especially with the inauguration of Donald Trump, alongside with the rise of Fascism and Neo-Nazi. And also about North Korea, the war in Syria (specifically in Aleppo), ISIS, even here in Indonesia (G30S/PKI, Kejadian 1998, and so on). The whole word is still struggling, especially when it is about human rights. The history keeps repeating itself.. Why is it so hard for people to respect others’ rights, anyway?