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In ‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel, the author tells the true story of the dehumanization he endured in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In this lesson, we will learn more about dehumanization.

Dehumanization in Night

When Elie Wiesel, author of Night was just 15 years old, he and his family were taken by cattle car to a concentration camp in Auschwitz. From there, he endured ten months of torture and dehumanization in three different work camps before being liberated. In this lesson, we will learn more about the dehumanization experienced in Night.

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Dehumanization Defined

What is dehumanization? Dehumanization is the process of stripping a person of every quality that makes him human, including his identity, individuality, and soul.When Eliezer arrived at the concentration camp, he became a number. ‘I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name.

‘ Not only did Eliezer lose his name, he lost his family. He was allowed to stay with his father in a slave labor camp because he lied about his age. The rest of his family was separated. After his release, he learns that his mother and youngest sister were taken to the gas chamber to be executed, but his two other sisters survived.

Unbelievable Stories of Torture

Before Eliezer’s family was taken to the camps, his Kabbalah teacher, Moishe the Beadle, was deported to a camp in Poland because he was unable to prove his Hungarian citizenship. Once he escapes, he attempts to tell the community what he witnessed, but no one believes him.

By the time Eliezer’s family realizes that the torture is real, it is too late for them to escape.’The Jews were ordered to get off and onto waiting trucks. The trucks headed toward a forest. There everybody was ordered to get out. They were forced to dig huge trenches. When they had finished their work, the men from the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion or haste, they shot their prisoners, who were forced to approach the trench one by one and offer their necks.

Infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns.Eliezer had barely arrived at Auschwitz when he witnessed the torture for himself:’A truck drew close and unloaded its hold: small children. Babies! Yes, I did see this, with my own eyes … children thrown into the flames.

‘Soon, watching others being beaten and murdered becomes so routine that it no longer affects Eliezer. It is hard to imagine that men could treat babies, or even other men in this fashion, but the Nazi soldiers did not see the Jews as fellow human beings with unique personalities. To them, all Jews, young and old, represented the enemy.

Every Man for Himself

Once the prisoners lost their humanity, they treated each other as badly as the Nazi soldiers treated them.

Elie recalls the incident of a son turning on his father for a bite of bread:’I saw… an old man dragging himself on all fours. He had just detached himself from the struggling mob. He was …hiding a piece of bread under his shirt. …. Stunned by the blows, the old man was crying: ‘Meir, my little Meir! Don’t you recognize me…You’re killing your father; I have bread;for you too; for you too;’ His son searched him, took the crust of bread, and began to devour it.

He didn’t get far. Two men had been watching, him. They jumped him. Others joined in.

When they withdrew, there were two dead bodies next to me, the father and the son.’Even Elie is not immune. When his father becomes sick with dysentery, Elie provides food and water from his own rations to sustain his father, as other prisoners began stealing from him. Elie recalls feeling irritated with his dad that he kept getting himself beaten by yelling out, and for a moment, Elie feels relieved when his father dies.Eventually, everyone gets to the point that they stop caring for themselves or their fellow human beings.

Life became nothing more than survival of the fittest. ‘I watched other hangings. I never saw a single victim weep. These withered bodies had long forgotten the bitter taste of tears.’

Lesson Summary

Having heard the tales of torture at the hands of the Nazi soldiers, Eliezer is still surprised when his family is taken by cattle car to a concentration camp where they are separated and some of are killed. Eliezer stays with his father because he lies about his age. Once he is taken from his family, he is further dehumanized by being stripped of his name and given a number.

Dehumanization is the process of stripping a person of every quality that makes him human, including his identity, individuality, and soul. Witnessing death of innocent children and being beaten and starved becomes commonplace. Once the prisoners are used to being treated as animals, they start acting like animals. Elie witnesses people killing each other for a bite of bread. Death and torture becomes such a part of life, that they no longer care when it happens.

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