Identity is what makes a person who they are and when one goes through trauma and dehumanization the way they see things changes, which causes their identity to reshape. ‘Night’ by Eliezer Wiesel is a Holocaust memoir where Elie narrates his life experience in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Elie provides horrifying details of the atrocities he and the Jews suffered in the camps. The suffering and trauma Elie endures in ‘Night’ affect his choices, resulting in a loss of faith in God, loss of faith in family and love, and loss of self-worth, which shapes and reshapes his identity.
In Elie’s childhood before his experience in the camps faith in God and religion was a huge part of his identity but this was tested and changed over and over in the camps. The moment when Elie’s faith in God is really tested is when little pipel is hung. “Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’, and from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where-hanging here from these gallows” (Wiesel, 65). After witnessing something so inhumane the murder of an innocent little boy Elie’s faith in God is slowly dying like the little boy in front of him. To Elie, God walked away when he suffered and needed help and guidance the most. Elie became sick and tired and God’s silence so rebelled against God in his own way. “I did not fast… I no longer accepted God’s silence. As I swallowed my ration of soup, I turned that act into a symbol of rebellion, or protest against Him” (Wiesel, 69). Elie is mad at God for staying silent when all these atrocities are killing innocent believers in God, causing him to lose his faith and with that, he loses a huge part of his identity caused by the hardships, dehumanization, and trauma he is exposed to.
Elie’s family was a huge part of his childhood and identity growing up and he lost everyone all in one day. After witnessing so many families break apart in the camps, from the boy who killed his father for a piece of bread to the abandonment Rabbi Eliahou's son, all Elie had was his father and he prayed that he would never treat his father like that, but their relationship was tested again and again in the camp. When Elie first arrived at camp his father was hit on the face by a gypsy, he felt ashamed of himself standing there and doing nothing, after watching his father getting hit right in front of him. Later when Elie’s father is beaten up by the Kapo Elie blames his father. “I felt anger at that moment, it was not directed at the Kapo but at my father. Why couldn't he have avoided Idek's wrath” (Wiesel, 54). This shows the change in Elie's attitude towards his father. The father Elie once looked up to and respected is now just a burden in this camp of death. Near the end of the story, after Elie’s father develops dysentery, Elie starts to have feelings of resentment towards his father and, at times Elie even thinks about taking his father’s food and leaving him alone but did not have the heart to do so. He stayed with his father until the very end. After his father's death, Elie did not cry. “It pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last” (Wiesel, 112). Elie was ashamed of the fact that he felt free after his father’s death. Elie felt a burden taken off his back because to Elie love and family were a weakness in this camp.
As a result of how brutally Elie was treated and the thought of being selected to die if not needed, Elie lost all of his self-confidence and self-worth. During the selection process, SS officers picked the fittest prisoners and annihilated the other prisoners that did not make the cut. This process dehumanized Elie and the prisoners by slaughtering prisoners not worthy of living just like animals. “It was my turn. I Ran without looking back. My head was spinning: you are too skinny, you are good for the ovens… The race seemed endless; I felt as though I had been running for years… You are too skinny, you are too weak… At last, I arrived Exhausted” (Wiesel, 72). This shows how fearful Elie was. The thought of not being worthy enough to live; he was ‘too skinny’ and ‘too weak’. This was precisely what the Nazi’s wanted the prisoners to believe that they were worth nothing, their lives were worth absolutely nothing. Even after Elie was liberated what he experienced in the camps changed him forever. “One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall… From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me” (Wiesel, 115). Elie’s dehumanizing experience transformed him into a living corpse. Elie was not able to look at himself as a living being anymore; he not only lost his self-worth but his identity of living as well.
Elie’s identity is reshaped by the cruel and inhumane treatment in the camps. Going through so much and watching an innocent boy murdered in front of him while God stays silent causes Elie, to lose faith in God. Witnessing so many families break apart in the camp and having his own father feeling like a burden causes Elie to lose faith in love and family. Going through the selection process being judged whether one is useful enough to keep living causes, Elie, to lose faith in his own self-worth. Going through such dehumanizing experiences Elie loses his faith in God, loses his faith in love and family, and loses his faith in his own self-worth which was a huge part of his identity. These experiences affected Elie’s beliefs and life forever even after the Holocaust.