“Without passion or haste, they shot their prisoners… infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns” (Wiesel 6). During the holocaust, Hitler’s German regime shows to the world that humans are capable of cruelty of an extreme degree. Millions of people met their ends in the dirty, torturous concentration camps. Despite this horror, some still showed love, kindness, and respect.
It may have come in various forms but plenty of historical accounts, Elie Wiesel’s Night being one such account, have depicted these instances, As Wiesel’s book shows, humans are capable of unspeakable cruelties when standing in the face of fear, but compassion can be wrought from this fear and shown when needed most. In the 1930s, Germany faced major economic crises. Desperate, the people hunted for any leader who could bring them away from their fear of complete economic devastation. Adolf Hitler fed off this fear and rose to power, then began his work.
He targeted Jews. The true cruelty began a few years later. With the diffusion of concentration camps, the horror wrought by the Germans spread like wildfire. In Wiesel’s Hungarian town, the Jewish community was forced into ghettos prior to moving to camps where they “were forced one by one to approach the trench and offer their necks” (Wiesel 6). Upon arriving at the concentration camp, the prisoners were told to leave behind their belongings, strip, be examined, and be given prison garb. Once inside, Elie realized the communal sense of terror and hopelessness.
It was there that he finally understood just how cruel man could be. His “eyes had opened and [he] was alone, terribly alone without God, without man. Without love or mercy” (Wiesel 68). Slowly, the camps caused Elie to lose more and more of the faith he once had and, upon his father’s death, his life “no longer mattered. Since [his] father’s death, nothing mattered to [him] anymore” (Wiesel 113). That is the cruelty of the Nazis. They deluded the Jews with false hopes of safety only to tear it away.
As the Nazis exhibited their unchecked cruelty in regards to murder and beating or killing those unable or unwilling to work, their monotonous routines took away anyone’s sense of self. Because the Jews and other prisoners were growing consistently weaker (due to the rations being all but nothing), these human beings no longer appeared human. Because the fear and concern of the Nazis led to this dehumanization, their willingness to murder and portray cruelty skyrocketed because they were no longer killing what appeared to be human. These acts of heartlessness did, however, promote compassion.
Those witnessing this tragedy could see the cruelty. The viewer could be a bystander or suffrage. In the prisons, Elie heard and saw evidence of this compassion. When people threw bread on the train or his father gave up his rations, it was seen. Even some guards felt this. Following the 30-minute hanging of a child, a camp leader shouted: “caps off!… his voice quivered” (Wiesel 64). Even this Lageralteste, who had been committing atrocious acts, saw the evil of his ways when he was forced to gaze at the still-dying eyes of a child.
Arguably, some compassion from within the camps came from nothingness. All the prisoners knew how dire their situation was and many had the compassion to suffer in silence. This was to prevent the others from having to pay more mind to the problems at hand. Having the compassion to die silently and without a fuss prevented the dredging of others’ wishes for lost family members. That is why “nobody asked anybody for help. One died because he had to. No point in making trouble” (Wiesel 89). There is one major incident of compassion from outside the camp.
The evening prior to the Jews being moved from the ghetto to the concentration camp, a friend of the family gave them the opportunity to escape. She must have been cognizant of the potential consequences, but she decided that helping the soon-to-be-dead family was right. In fact, another friend (a government-related worker) warned the Wiesels of their impending demise as well. Finally, the militaries opposing the Nazis showed compassion as well. When these militaries discovered the weary, emaciated Jews, they gave them food, water, clothing, and medical aid.
All of these instances of compassion were brought about by misfortune and cruelty. The givers of compassion looked upon their circumstances and others’ and saw that something could be done. Even, as was the case for the Lageralteste, if this compassion was manifest as an emotion rather than an action. The Germans’ inhumanity and dehumanization in World War II was, and remains, inconceivable. Only those who witnessed and experienced it can give insight as to how much cruelty can be caused by fear. Wiesel’s Night shows this hatred and cruelty while also exemplifying how the worst circumstances can result in astonishing compassion.