“Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” (From Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize speech)
All writers today should honor the memory of Elie Wiesel, who shows us all the utter power and vital importance of one single person’s writing. Instead of shutting down and trying to forget the dreadful reality of concentration camp life, he instead bravely revived those memories in pen and ink and released them into the world with his book Night, a work that cannot be forgotten by anyone who has read it. It is, in a sense, a haunting sequel to Anne Frank’s diary, another potent document of the Holocaust.
I wanted in particular to pay tribute to Wiesel, because after the war, he had to endure a kind of insult on top of grievous injury: He had a very hard time getting Night published, and then, read. What began as an 800-page narrative filled with essential, excruciating detail was whittled down, cut back, chopped back by successive publishers until, when it was finally published in the US in 1960, it was a mere 100 pages. This is surely not a book that was edited to bring out its luster or quality; this is a book of truth, a book that should have been 800 pages: It was a record, a document of man’s evilness to other men. Not to engage in trad-publishing bashing here, but this is one of the most tragic flaws of publishing in our age, when essential work gets overlooked or rejected because publishers are afraid to bring it out: Afraid not of controversy, but of unpopularity, i.e., not making any money off it.
Some of the news reports on his death today raise the question: What sort of book was Night? Was it non-fiction, novelistic non-fiction, memoir? Who cares–It is what it is. Thousands of schoolchildren and students now read it each year as a cautionary tale of human nature: May they continue to do so for years to come.