After the liberation of the concentration camps, many survivors were mentally and psychologically imbalanced. If Hitler had never ordered the outrageous exterminations, then the mental collapse of many would have never happened. What could have possibly been experienced by these survivors to have created these reactions?
Historically, survivors of the Holocaust have been regarded as victims. Elie Wiesel’s depiction of the survivors in the novel Night suggests that the brutality the victims faced transformed these ordinary, harmless men and women into selfish individuals desperate for survival. These accounts suggest that fear can transform good-willed human beings, changing them to such an extent that they can become psychologically lost and damaged from their traumatic experiences.
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While many may view the survivors of the Holocaust are fortunate to have been rescued, the reality is quite different. According to Mary F. Salony’s The Cap: The Price of A Life, the actual experience of a survivor witnessing his mother’s death in front of his eyes, in ways that are immoral, is heart-wrenching. He could do nothing to save her, but to stay strong himself and obey all orders given from the murderer(s) of his mother, in order to stay alive. He admits that “such experiences can cause a person to act immorally to save his life”. Furthermore, in the novel Night, Elie Wiesel was encouraged and advised to leave his ill father behind to die, even taking his ration of bread to eat in order to have more strength to pass the strict selections, simply because “in this place [concentration camps], there is no father, brother, friend. Each lives and dies alone” (Wiesel 110). The cruelty in the concentration camps acted upon the psychologically abused victims and marks the bizarre struggle that which each must have gone through in order to save their lives. How ‘fortunate’ could they be, to be liberated from the deadly camps, yet at the cost of their loved ones?
Essentially, the early factors of Hitler’s victims’ nightmare began with the deportation of millions of Jews to “ghettos” (Wiesel 20), and later concentration camps, leading to millions of irreversible deaths. Torture. Death. Torture. Death. Torture and death were the two main things that occurred in the everyday lives of concentration camps. Of course, it also included the indifferent selections. The strong and healthy lived; the weak, were either sent to crematories or to German doctors for “experiments”. According to Night, during the endless selections, inmates would exercise, or use any techniques available in order to give their skin some color to look healthier in order to avoid being selected (Wiesel 72). In the camps, everyone knew one thing—they either lived or died; no mercy existed. Living under pressure, the only way to survive was to be selfish, only caring for themselves. Historical evidence of inhumane treatments toward the inmates of the Holocaust reassures others the psychological effects of the survivors was devastating; it has dehumanized them, and gave survivors memories of hell. Wiesel’s depiction of the survivors is narrower because he focuses on personal experiences of specific individuals, as well as encountering it himself. As Wiesel describes, he would never forget about “the smoke [of the crematory]â€¦the small faces of the children whose bodies transformed into smoke under a silent skyâ€¦the smoke that consumed my [his] faith foreverâ€¦” (Wiesel 34). His description of the crematory, the graves of countless victims, reveals how many must have suffered while seeing their own children, fathers, brothers, friends, relatives, and neighbors, being burned to ashes, while still alive. In addition, Wiesel mentions that he lost faith during his long day in the camps; God allowed Hitler to kill innocent lives, and take innocence away from the victims. After Wiesel’s liberation from Buchenwald, he looks in a mirror for the first time since the deportation, and describes “a corpse contemplating me [him]. The looks in his eyes that gazed at me has never left me” (Wiesel 115). In other words, he has lost his innocence. If the Holocaust had never taken place, then millions of teenagers could have continued to live their lives. However, because of the Holocaust, many teenaged survivors knew only revenge, anger, and grief.
In accounts of many survivors and witnesses, the emotional abuse struck them more painfully than the physical abuse. For instance, the ‘medical experiments’ performed by Dr. Mengele, a German doctor nicknamed Angel of Death, along with many other doctors, on Holocaust inmates created an atmosphere of extreme fear. Mengele often chose the muselmen, inmates who were too weak to pass the strict selections; this caused many to not only fear death, but of slow torture from the experiments. Many Jews lost their fathers, sons, neighbors, and friends (Wiesel 64). Their misfortunes often led their loved ones to collapse, since they no longer had motivation to live in the midst of torture. The encounters of others led the inmates into deep fear, some even committing suicide to avoid painful slow deaths, according to Samual Pisar’s Out of Auschwitz. This suggests that the amount of pressure they had was enormous, pushing them to end their lives themselves, and to a hopeless point where faith no longer existed for them. Fear also existed due to the absence of God when they truly needed Him; they felt abandoned.
In addition, the historical depiction of the psychological damage created in the Holocaust survivors reveal the inhumane tortures they suffered. In a similar manner, Wiesel reveals the same concept and also shares his experiences. “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never” (Wiesel 34). This is one of the few moments in the novel Night where Wiesel speaks continuously with such strong sentiments regarding his horrendous first night in the concentration camp. It was also the first night in which he mentions his loss of faith in God. The repeat of ‘never’ demonstrates Wiesel’s strong emotion toward the tragedy. From historical accounts as well as Night’s depiction, both mentions the type of reaction one would have from the effects from exposure of fear and death. According to Samual Pisar’s Out of Auschwitz, “Auschwitz has become a symbol of the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s regime and of genocide itself. Of the 1.1 million people who died there, most were Jews”. This reveals the enormity of the death toll, and the frequency of one witnessing the loss of lives. The type of pain and agony exposed to witnesses as well as victims is unutterable, and not understandable to ordinary people who has never experienced such torment.
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While the historical depiction is similar with Night’s, the Holocaust Denial contrasts the actual reality. In a straightforward manner, the Holocaust Denial fraudulently misleads individuals into believing false facts. From the news article of Bishop Williamson Convicted to Pay Fine for Holocaust Denial, Williamson and many others claim “that no Jews had died in gas chambers during the Holocaust”, negating everything. As the survivors and witnesses actively try to pass the story on, the denials wreck all the efforts. Holocaust survivors, who had lost their loved ones, after facing near-death experiences, and managed to stay alive for the liberation, are being denied of the occurrence of the event. According to Martin Gilbert’s The Boys, a book containing the memoirs of 732 Holocaust survivors recalling the nightmare years during their childhood in concentration camps, some of the experiences included “eating human flesh” (Gilbert 253), of corpses, in order to stay alive from hunger, when they were not fed enough. Many may have even fallen into a worse stage of mental illness after hearing about such unjust of denial.
Through Wiesel’s depiction of Holocaust survivors and their psychological effects, often leading to the loss of faith, the reader understands that maintaining faith in a benevolent God under severe circumstances is not a simple achievement. In Night, Wiesel demonstrates a strong sense of faith in the beginning; however, as time goes by, and he witnesses more and more death with no sign of God helping, he begins to lose faith. He questions “Where is God? Where is He?” (Wiesel 80). Inevitably, he loses faith. Wiesel believed that God never helped his suffering children when they needed help most. According to Wiesel’s memoir, he regains faith after the liberation. To many, faith today is a form of protection they can seek for. However, when this type of protection does not actually protect them from harm, many lose faith. For example, when the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, many lost faith. No matter what cultural background, ethnicity, or religion, whether Jewish, Indonesian, or any other races individuals are consumed of, there will always be evil that asserts itself, or calamity strikes, that would cause struggle in one’s maintenance of faith. When mankind loses faith, where would hope be? Many Holocaust inmates that did not survive were mostly ones that no longer believed in the existence of God. Perhaps that was also the leading cause to the psychological collapse of survivors. The loss of lives is irreversible; however, faith can always regenerate.
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