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Elie Wiesel's 'Night' and Other Literature on Holocaust Survivors: Victims and Survivors

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Elie Wiesel & Additional Victims: Surviving the Holocaust

The Holocaust is often considered the worst human genocide in history. The events that occurred during the Holocaust are often viewed as unimaginable and unbelievable to those who have not experienced it. About six million Jews perished in these horrific events and about three million victims survived. One of the many survivors of the Holocaust is a man named Elie Wiesel. He is the acclaimed author of the essential Holocaust narrative entitled Night. Throughout this narrative, he details his life during the Holocaust and the ways in which he survived. Additionally, “Warsaw Ghetto and Concentration Camps” by Solomon Radasky, “Escaped from the Death Train” by Eva Galler, and “Prisoner of War” by Isak Borenstein are interviews by respective Holocaust survivors that explain the adversities and survival of the Holocaust. According to Wiesel’s Night as well as the interviews by the Holocaust victims, the ways in which one would survive the Holocaust would be determined by one’s physical appearance, one’s amount of luck, successful risk taking, and self-reliance.

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One of the ways in which one would survive the Holocaust was to never act or look like you were too weak to work. Although it seemed highly difficult due to the conditions and the brutality that the Jews faced daily, Elie Wiesel survived the Holocaust by never showing signs that he was unable to work. The SS officer that took Wiesel to Auschwitz, one of the well-known concentration camps, stated: “Here, you must work. If you don’t you will go straight to the chimney. To the crematorium. (Wiesel 39)” The process of selection, where a Jew was either sent to work or be killed, often confronted Wiesel but fortunately he was never sent to be killed. Additionally, Wiesel discusses an instance where he was forced to run by the authority of Dr. Mengele, the notorious doctor of Auschwitz. This was another selection process, and those who showed signs of weakness were to have their tattooed numbers written down and eventually face death. After Wiesel asked his friend, Yossi, if his number had been written down, he replied: “They couldn’t have. You were running too fast. (Wiesel 72)” Once again Wiesel passed the selection because he never appeared too weak. Likewise in Solomon Radasky’s “Warsaw Ghetto and Concentration Camps”, Radasky had faced selection but was successful. He explains: “One day there was a selection and I was pulled from the shop. However, I was lucky because a Volksdeutscher told them I was a good worker. So I was allowed to go back to the shop, and someone else was put in my place. (Radasky)” Had he not been a good worker, his fate would have been deadly. In general, prisoners would always have to look and act like they are able to work in order to survive the Holocaust.

Secondly, the majority of survival during the Holocaust depended on one’s luck. Every single life of a Jew in the camps during the Holocaust was at danger at all times. An SS officer could randomly shoot a Jew without having to explain why he did it. Undoubtedly, Wiesel was lucky to have survived the Holocaust. Part of Wiesel’s survival depended on how lucky he was to be sent to a good Kommando, a German term meaning “unit”, and also how lucky he was to be held under the authority of a kind Blockalteste, a block leader of a concentration camp. The Blockalteste that Wiesel was assigned to for three weeks was humane compared to the others. He shares his experience during this three week period: “We slept a lot. In the afternoon and at night (Wiesel 44)”. A harsh Blockalteste may have shot him for trying to sleep or for maybe no reason at all so he was lucky to have had a sincere one. Additionally, he was sent to a good Kommando to do simple work. A man named Hans told him: “You are lucky, little fellow. You fell into a good Kommando… (Wiesel 50)”. It was all about luck and being sent to a bad Kommando may have most likely resulted in death. Supplementary evidence of luck being a key element of survival during the Holocaust can be indicated in the interview “Prisoner of War” by Isak Borenstein. Borenstein discusses a time when he was sent to a death chamber for the suspicion of being Jewish. He informs the reader of he was able to get out of the death chamber. He vividly states: “A Volksdeutscher said, ‘This guy has been beaten so much that if he was a Jew he would already have confessed.’ They believed me that I was a Russian soldier, so they put me back in a regular cell. There in the cell a Polish officer recognized me as being a Jew. He started yelling, ‘Jew, Jew, Jew.’ The Russian prisoners beat that officer so much that he did not say anything. It was pure luck that I survived. (Borenstein)” Even Borenstein himself admits that he had been lucky to have survived and would not been alive had he confessed to being a Jew. Generally, one would need an abundant amount of luck to survive the Holocaust.

Another part of surviving the Holocaust was taking life-threatening risks. In Night, Wiesel talks about risking his own life to save the life of his father, who was about to be killed from selection for being too weak. He explains the risky process, stating: “I inched my way through the crowd. Several SS men rushed to find me, creating such confusion that a number of people were able to switch to the right-among them my father and I. Still, there were gunshots and some dead. (Wiesel 96)” Had Wiesel not have done this, he would have lost his father and possibly his own life. They could’ve also been shot during the scuffle. Similarly, in Eva Galler’s interview, “Escaped from the Death Train,” Galler discusses a time when she was taken to a cattle train and soon witnessed people trying to escape. Afterwards, she and her family would participate. Specifically, she states: “My brother Berele jumped out, then my sister Hannah, and then I jumped out. The SS men shot at us. I landed in a snowbank. The bullets did not hit me. When I did not hear anything anymore, I went back to find my brother and my sister. I found them dead. (Galler)” The risk that she took jumping off the train led her to survive. Unfortunately, the decision to jump off the train was a very risky and dangerous one and Galler’s brother and sister did not survive. Unlike her siblings, Galler had been the successful risk taker. Overall, in order for one to have survived the Holocaust, one would have had to succeed in taking a life-threatening risk.

Lastly, for one to survive the Holocaust, one would have to be self-reliant in the most efficient way possible. Although it had, in a way, been a selfish survival technique of the Holocaust, it definitely helped Wiesel survive. If people wanted to survive the Holocaust, they would have to be concerned much more about themselves than others. Wiesel would eventually hear this advice from the Blockalteste, telling Wiesel: “Stop giving your ration of bread and soup to your old father. You cannot help him anymore. And you are hurting yourself. In fact, you should be getting his rations… (Wiesel 110)” Subsequently he agreed with the Blockalteste, although he was hesitant to admit it at first. Additionally, he thought more about food than his father after his father had passed away. This indicates that Wiesel had been concerned just about himself and his survival. Furthermore, in the introduction of Solomon Radasky’s Holocaust interview “Warsaw Ghetto and Concentration Camps” he states: “You have to fight for yourself day by day. Some people did not care. They said, ‘I do not want to live. What is the difference? I don’t give a damn.’ I was thinking day by day. I want to live. (Radasky)” He is strongly implying that one would have to be self-determined and self-sufficient to survive. On the whole, self-reliance is a major component of survival during the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was a period of pain and suffering for Jews in which six million of them had died. Moreover, it is often considered the worst human genocide in history. The events that occurred during the Holocaust are impossible to imagine for those who did not experience it. Elie Wiesel, author of the significant Holocaust narrative entitled Night, was one of the many survivors of the Holocaust. Throughout this narrative, he discusses his life during the Holocaust and how he was able to survive this horrific time period. Additionally, “Warsaw Ghetto and Concentration Camps” by Solomon Radasky, “Escaped from the Death Train” by Eva Galler, and “Prisoner of War” by Isak Borenstein are interviews by respective Holocaust victims that explain the hardships and survival of the Holocaust. According to Night as well as the interviews by the Holocaust victims, the ways in which one would survive the Holocaust would be determined by one’s bodily appearance, one’s luck, successful risk taking, and self-reliance.

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