Symbolism In Elie Wiesel’s Night Essay

Envision a barrack, congested and overcrowded with the exhausted and emaciated. Even the dead and dying are your assailants as you fight through a massive wall of bodies for the chance to drawn in a breath. The living are as pitiful as the forgotten corpses they abandoned while marching through the snow, devoid of feeling and sentiment. Suddenly, the song of a lone violin, resonant in its isolation, floats through the dismal barrack. The musician is not a glorious soloist with thousands of adoring fans, but a boy on his deathbed.

Elie Wiesel describes this moment in his memoir of the Holocaust, Night. The Jews had become empty shells forced to march through the glacial, incapitating cold after the concentration camp’s evacuation. However, Juliek, a Jew who had played in the orchestra in Buna, carried his violin with him throughout the death march. In his last moments, he poured his soul into playing Beethoven, expressing what his life could have been and mourning the ruined past he could not cling to. His spectators, a fading audience standing before their very graves.

Juliek’s simple act of playing his violin, a monumentous task for someone about to fall over the brink of death, showed that he had held onto the distant dream of a life that had been savagely torn away from him; and refused to surrender to empty idleness. Personal objects had lost all value to the Jews imprisoned within the death camps. They cared only for their next meal, or their own survival. The dead were trampled over without a prayer or second thought as the prisoners mechanically advanced towards Gleiwitz.

The living abandoned the dead, that was how one survived. Eliezer witnessed Rabbi Eliahu’s beloved son abandon his own father as he fell behind, but Juliek had brought his violin, a piece of wood and strings, for fear that it would be broken. Eliezer was astonished by this, “I thought he’d lost his mind. His violin? Here? “(94). The idiom expresses Eliezer’s pure disbelief. In a world where corpses were discarded like trash and family turned on family, leaving each other to die in isolation, Juliek would not abandon an instrument.

He carried the only thing he had left like a precious treasure, even though it was a dead weight as he trudged through the snow, wasting away. When the Jews finally reached shelter, it was a barrack that flooded with death and despair. It did not protect and comfort them like a real shelter, but housed their misery and kept them prisoner with their own hopelessness. The atmosphere emanated a miasma of anguish and fear as people clawed through corpses to escape suffocation. However, Juliek took out his violin, and cut through the darkness. “Never before had I heard such a beautiful sound”(95).

Eliezer emphasizes the contrast between the miserable setting and Juliek’s playing. To him, it might as well be an orchestra of angels, the only music in a silence brought on by suffering and sorrow. Juliek’s performance was more than a mere fragment of music, it carried the symbolism of his fading life and aspirations that he could not express otherwise. “He played that which he would never play again”(95). Juliek’s very soul and being vibrated against the strings of his violin, presenting to a dying audience the essence of a shattered future and scorched life that they all shared.

He performed Beethoven, an artist the Jews were forbidden to play, a final act of defiance from someone who had everything stolen from him. Juliek would never play again, never feel or dream or live again; but he spent his last fleeting moments as a concert of one. While others were slowly overtaken by death, Juliek summoned the strength to bid farewell to his fallen comrades. Even though he had withered away to almost nothing, this one song had the power to carry Juliek’s heart and soul throughout the desolate arrack.

The Nazis had failed to take that power away from him. The night Eliezer witnessed Juliek’s concert burned into his mind forever. Despite the horrendous circumstances, Juliek held onto his violin and used it as a vessel to convey everything that had been denied and taken from him, disrupting the barren silence with beauty and humanity. He did not die another nameless prisoner, but drew out the last reserves of his strength to play a moving requiem that immortalized him within Eliezer’s memory.

Even in the darkest chapters of human history, there are still moments of shining hope and harmony. When Eliezer awoke in the morning, Juliek’s violin lay beside his dead body, a mirror image of him as it had been in life. Imagine, decades after World War Two, you hear a certain piece by Beethoven. Suddenly, from the darkness of your mind, like the darkness of the barrack, the pallid face of your departed companion comes into view. Along with his face, the memory of a life and goodbye conveyed by a single violin.