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Suffering and Personality Change in the Book 'Night'

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Throughout history society has been tested with catastrophic events that inflicted suffering upon certain demographics. These past experiences show that in moments of enduring pain even good people are capable of making bad choices. In his memoir, ‘Night’ (Weisel, 2006), Elie Wiesel vividly depicts how moments of intense suffering absolutely bring out the worst in the characters rather than the best. Support from ‘Wiesel Talks about Night and Life After the Holocaust’ (Elie Wiesel interviewed by Bob Costas, 1993), ‘The Holocaust Poisoned Eliezer’s Relationships’ (Estess, 1980), and ‘Faith in Elie Wiesel’s Night’ (Blomster, 2018) are a clear indication of how misery and anguish result in a changed personality.

Characters who were once good are changed for the worse. Abandoning relationships is detrimental to happiness and causes the Jews in the death camps to lose regard for others. With few to no valuable relationships left, pain leads to revenge when the Jews turn against each other in the camps as well as in the open cattle cars travelling to Buchenwald. This behavior can be observed in the actions of Elie and some of his fellow inmates. In the book Elie abandons his core beliefs, leaving his innocence behind in Sighet. His story show readers that the Holocaust was an extremely traumatic event that pushed people to act harshly in order to survive. Under normal circumstances these were good people but because of the weight of this pain and suffering, abnormal negative attributes were highlighted.

Biologically, humans are social beings and rely on relationships to fulfil them. The difficulties Rabbi Eliahou’s son, Akiba Drumer, and Elie encounter deprive them of these essential relationships. Akiba Drumer is a symbol of religion and hope among the prisoners. His strong faith in God drives the Jews to persist and not give up. Akiba Drumer is weakened when his faith is lost. Elie witnesses Akiba Drumer’s natural spirits diminished and states, “...If only he could have kept his faith in God [...] he would not have been swept away by the selection” (Wiesel, 77). When Akiba deserts God, his role as a leader is lost along with his charismatic essence. He is no longer able to support others around him and loses his sense of purpose. Akiba's change in character impacts not only himself but the Jews around him as well. Similarly, suffering in the camps provokes Rabbi Eliahou’s son to abandon his own father. While running he “had seen him losing ground, sliding to the rear of the column. [...] He continued to run in front, letting the distance between them become greater” (Wiesel, 91). Not only did the son see his father at his weakest point, but he subconsciously chose to leave him suffer by himself rather than help him. The death camps were able to kill compassion for family members leaving no room to focus on anything but survival. Furthermore, Elie is desensitized by his own experiences in the camp. When Elie’s Father is taken away, he feels a sense of relief, “deep inside [him], if [he] could have searched the recesses of [his] feeble conscience, [he] might have found something like: free at last!” (Wiesel, 112). Elie had no tears left to cry when his father died. Survival instincts distanced Elie from empathy and sensitivity towards his father. His spirit was bare from trauma with no emotions left. Relationships are crucial in building compassion for others but the anguish in the concentration camps leads to withdrawal from relationships. Without meaningful relationships the prisoners are subject to loss of benevolence which feeds into their rebellion against each other.

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Pain endured by the prisoners of the camps causes them to turn against each other as demonstrated by the Kapos and other inmates. When Elie first arrives at Auschwitz he sees suffering and chaos among the inmates. Elie recites, “This is what the antechamber of hell must look like. So many crazed men, so much shouting, so much brutality” (Wiesel ,34). The Jews are tormented from the beginning by the prison leaders but also by each other. Misery is translated in the way that they act and abuse each other. The inmates of Auschwitz saw violence as an escape from personal pain. “What happened there, the killers managed to create a universe parallel to our own [...] [a Jewish child] knows that only violence could be a refuge” (Elie Wiesel interviewed by Bob Costas, 1993). Jews entering Auschwitz were willing to take extreme measures in order to survive, even if it meant abusing those around them for personal gain. Their ability to distinguish right from wrong was blurred as the world they were living in was so far from normal. Even the Kapos are subject to fear and inflict further pain upon inmates due to their own squalor. When Chlomo asks to use the washroom, “the Gypsy stared at [him] for a long time from head to toe [...] then he slapped [Chlomo] with such force he fell down and crawled back to his place on all fours” (Wiesel, 39). The idea of desperate times leading to desperate measures takes a whole new meaning when Kapos choose to beat innocent people for a possibility of less personal suffering. The suffering and desperation of the prisoners leads to subconscious thoughtless behavior and abuse towards others.

The horrific environment of the open cattle cars travelling to Buchenwald also feeds the feeling of desperation among the passengers. The Jews began to lose perspective so that they were even willing to kill loved ones for something as simple as bread. One night Elie is tormented with the cries of an old man, “Meir! Don't you recognize me [...] you're killing your father […] I have bread for you too” (Wiesel, 101). The young boy turned against his own blood in the battle for survival. The pain and despair he experienced caused him to view his father as a competitor for survival rather than a loved one. The atmosphere of the open cattle cars was a source of insanity for the passengers. Rather than appreciate those around them they resorted to revenge and murder. “On the third night of [their] journey [Elie] woke up with a start when [he] felt two hands on [his] throat trying to strangle [him]” (Wiesel, 102). Elie had no explanation for why this man attacked him and will never know. Intense trauma leads to good people doing unspeakable things for no apparent reason. Along the journey to Buchenwald the prisoners had even lost respect for the dead. At a stop the passengers were instructed to remove all corpses from their car. “The living were glad. They would have more room [...] Two ‘gravediggers’ grabbed him [corpse] by the head and feet and threw him from the wagon, like a sack of flour”( Wiesel, 99). The suffering these Jews endured brought along so much emotional trauma they were no longer saddened by death and were living only for themselves. They treated dead bodies like inanimate objects and were focused solely on obtaining the necessary resources for their own survival. Indeed, the cattle cars were a place of fear and suffering. The inhuman conditions were the soil upon which the passenger’s desperate actions and decisions grew.

Acute suffering caused Elie to abandon his core beliefs. In Sighet Elie was a faithful and curious student of the Talmud. Upon arrival at Auschwitz the Elie from Sighet was gone and the young boy was forced to live a new life where pain and suffering influenced his every decision. “'Night' records how the Holocaust poisoned and nearly destroyed all primary relationships in Eliezer’s life. His relationship to himself- and by this is meant his understanding of himself- is called into question on the first night at Auschwitz” (Estess, 1980). Elie’s eyes were coated in fear from what he saw at Auschwitz. He progressively lost his faith and desire to learn, distancing himself from the teachings of the Talmud and Torah. “He watches himself through the lens of time and contemplates what he became; the old days’ Eliezer, whose life was dominated by Rosh Hashanah, no longer existed” (Blomster, 13). Elie was completely aware of his own change in character, however was shocked to see his internal and external self by the end of his horrific journey. During an interview later on, Elie speaks of life after the war. He states in recollection, “[...] one day, really, I saw myself in that mirror. And I saw a person who was ageless, nameless, faceless. A person who belonged to [...] the world of the dead” (Elie Wiesel interviewed by Bob Costas, 1993). Elie had not seen his own reflection for years and didn’t even recognize himself upon first glance. The suffering which he endured changed who he was as a person. The camps gave Elie reason to give up his admired faith and forget his thirst for adventure and learning. The core beliefs which Elie lost at the camps were an important part of who he was as a character and once gone left him visibly spiritless upon freedom. Times were very difficult in the camps and Elie had no time to waste on anything but survival.

In conclusion, settings of intense and pure suffering cannot produce good results in characters. Anguish and despair expose otherwise uncharacteristically negative attributes in both Elie and his fellow prisoners, as proven in the character development of Elie Wiesel’s novel ‘Night’. The inmates at Auschwitz abandon loving relationships making them more self-centered. When left with no other outlet, some Jews seek revenge through acts of betrayal against each other. With no relationships and great desperation, Elie begins to lose self-meaning. The Holocaust was a monstrous act of hatred which brought pain and suffering to millions of Jews across Europe. Agony murdered Jews physically, mentally, and spiritually. Suffering overtook Elie and many of the inmates causing them to act fearfully. Righteousness, although good, is not often the result of dehumanizing situations. In his book ‘Night’ Elie Wiesel shows us that humans are not born sinful but moments of pain can serve to bring out evil in people.

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“Suffering and Personality Change in the Book ‘Night’.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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