“Night” and “Dawn” by Elie Wiesel
Knowing that all freshmen here at COHS read “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and that sophomores have “Dawn” as a possible outside reading choice for history projects, I decided I’d have a go at it. I had read “Night” in the past and found it deeply depressing—no surprise, I’m sure, as a personal account of a Holocaust experience has to make the reader wonder about man’s inhumanity to man. The most difficult part of reading “Night” was, for me, the sense that the evils perpetrated by the Nazis could indeed break the human spirit and make good people behave in a way that they would have previously regarded as something less than human. I still remember the story of a son wrestling his father for a loaf of bread.
Judging by the title, I thought that “Dawn” would be a story of some sort of redemption in the aftermath of the Holocaust. I had no idea what the subject of the book was, and it surprised me—as well as made me think.
The narrator, Elisha, is a survivor of Nazi death camps. He is recruited to go to Palestine as an Israeli freedom fighter—what people would refer to as a terrorist if the freedom fighter were waging war against them. Elisha is chosen because he has no family—they have all died in death camps—and nothing particular to live for. Working to create Israel gives him something to live for—a homeland. But what happens to him as a freedom fighter brings up all the moral questions of his activities. The British control Palestine. Another Jewish freedom fighter is captured by the British and sentenced to die. As retribution for the death, the freedom fighters/terrorists will execute a British soldier at the same time. The soldier is arbitrarily picked off the street and hidden in a basement. Elisha is chosen to be the executioner. This is ironic considering Elisha’s name.
The entire book reflects on the choice Elisha has to make as he communes with his dead family members, his past self and other freedom fighters (one of whom is, again ironically, nicknamed ‘God.’) As short as the novel is, I think some students will pick it as an outside book thinking it will be an easy read. Considering the questions it addresses, nothing could be further from the truth.