Trauma and Dignity in Night College

Upon arrival in Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel and his companions are shocked by unspeakable atrocities, and quickly are reduced to instinct. “We no longer clung to anything. The instincts of self-preservation, of self-defense, of pride, had all deserted us” (36). The lack of humanity shown to the prisoners strips them of the basic roles they once held in civilized society, and forces many to commit unbearable acts in order to survive. The men are torn from the lives they previously led, and no longer work or hold leadership positions; the sense of autonomy they once held over their lives has vanished. The innocent men are shaved, starved, beaten, and treated as “filthy dogs,” all while performing forced labor (85). They witness children being systematically burned alive, and many of their family members are murdered. The physical and psychological trauma of the camps reduces the prisoners’ self-worth. The overwhelming horror of Wiesel’s experience, combined with shame perpetuated by the SS officers, results in a chilling disconnection from his previous self. In Night, Elie Wiesel manages to communicate the nearly ineffable loss of human dignity that arises from the trauma of war and violence.

The Nazis structured the concentration...

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