A Chinese writer, Lu Xun, writes that comedy is when one witnesses the destruction of what is bad, and tragedy the destruction of what is good. By that definition, this book is the ultimate tragedy, a witness of the utter destruction of many innocent human beings, not only of the body but also of the soul, as people were either mercilessly slaughtered or reduced to mere beasts surviving on instincts and brute force, without reason, without faith, without any kind of human affections, and without hope. If evil is the departure from and absence of good, this is the ultimate evil.
Before he and his family were “transported” to the concentration camp, Elie Wiesel was a 16-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy who had faith in God. In Auschwitz, he witnessed the burning of infants, countless acts of atrocities, and finally the excruciating death of his own father (which he watched from a distance due to fear of punishment). He didn’t weep for he was out of tears. He lost his faith in God, but survived, “a corpse”.
To know and understand fully what Wiesel went through is almost impossible for people who have lived a rather sheltered life. However, none of us are immune to suffering and evil, even death itself (the ultimate evil, if one considers life as the ultimate good), therefore we can understand and empathize with Wiesel according to our capacity as a human being. Where does good come from? Is the good in us strong enough to overcome the kind of evil that has manifested itself in Auschwitz?
“The road was endless. To allow oneself to be carried by the mob, to be swept away by blind fate. When the SS were tired, they were replaced. But no one replaced us. Chilled to the bone, our throats parched, famished, out of breath, we pressed on.
We were the masters of nature, the masters of the world. We had transcended everything — death, fatigue, our natural needs. We were stronger than cold and hunger, stronger than the guns and the desire to die, doomed and rootless, nothing but numbers, we were the only men on earth.”