Over and over in my last two years of teaching composition a part of my class was exploring how my students literacy changed over their academic lives. And every single semester and every single class I had one or two students that would bring up the book Night by Elie Wiesel which their teachers had made them read.
I remember feeling happy and glad that students are taught with the hand of a teacher to read such a book. I “read” it on the treadmill after my #2 was born. As in listened to on it audio. I struggled to get through. Hearing the tale was much harder than reading it in black and white. One student continued interest in the novel throughout my class. She dedicated a full paper to how reading it changed her life to do something better. She went so far as to travel to meet Elie. Her whole paper was how she had spent the last three of years of her life since being better to her family and tried to do things to better society.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” ~Elie Wiesel
How I even got to read it is a miracle. I DON’T DO Oprah Book club. I find myself often irritated that she garners such respect and attention when she says she likes a book. I respect the opinions of those who take a much different path. But yes I know the money machine that is Oprah has been good for books. But Night made a stir. Not all that different from the Hunger Games stir and Harry Potter stir.
I just happened to flipping channels when Oprah did an interview with Elie Wiesel where he went back to Auschwitz and it pulled me in. His pain. His story. So I downloaded it to listen as I exercised. I will admit it now I couldn’t stomach the whole thing. I didn’t finish it. I knew how it ended. I read the forward. The images that Wiesel provoked in my mind were too disturbing.
When I saw it end up on my suggested reading list for this fall I passed it over, but I kept coming back as if I knew it was meant to be taught. But I questioned how could I lead a room full of teenagers through such a hard story. It goes so far beyond Anne Frank. It seems surreal. I knew I needed to read it to be sure. And by read it I meant finish it. When I read it the first time I was a confused college sophomore. Now I have a BA in English and almost an MA in the same. Surely, I could muddle through.
And I did. I read it in less than 24 hours. Not because I loved the characters or the stories. I wanted to know happiness existed in the end. I wanted to know that that kind of torment could not exist. But more than anything I didn’t want to do what I had previously done. I didn’t want to sit idly by and ignore the existence of truth. We are so sensitized to the world today. We are okay by violence, anger and hatred. That when it can still shock our senses it is hard to even cope.
The experience reading this book should be so different than anything most have read. It isn’t an imagined killing arena or wizarding world. It is reality in its purest form. I have seen anger, violence and hatred and I too swore to never be quiet ever again. Looking it in the eye more than once and saying, “No!” And what I witnessed was so meek and mild compared to anything any of the characters in this book have. But still it moves me to this day. So much so I find myself grappling its choke hold.
I am grateful that someone decided to say it is not okay. This story has to be told. I hope it continues to give others the urge to do the same. I am grateful for the opportunity to teach my students to be respectful and kind to this story and understand that it was someone’s life.