Annual Holocaust Remembrance Essay Contest
1st place: Herman Bhupal
School: East Chapel Hill High School
We live in America, the “Land of the Free.” As a nation, we stand for liberties such as the freedom of speech, press, religion. As a result, one of the most obvious lessons we can learn from Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night is that of acceptance. Through the exploration of the themes of hope and kindness, Wiesel’s portrayal of the Holocaust teaches us that we cannot hope to live in a peaceful world until we become accepting and tolerant of other people’s values and beliefs.
Throughout the memoir, we see the consistent cruelty and prejudice of the Nazi party towards groups they deem “subhuman,” including the Jewish, gypsy, homosexual, and Jehovah’s Witness communities. However, there are incidents of hope and kindness dispersed in the story that show us why acceptance and tolerance of others’ differences are crucial to achieving a peaceful atmosphere. These instances of kindness give us a glimpse of what could have been possible if Nazi Germany had not persecuted these people.
This issue of ill treatment did not go away with the end of the Holocaust. In fact, ill treatment to minorities is something that is, unfortunately, still common today. Despite the abundance of lessons found in the Shoah, we have failed to learn them. This is evident in the rise in the number of hate crimes since 9/11. In New Jersey, teenage boys beat an old Sikh man because he was wearing a turban. In Colorado, policemen themselves conducted an unjust arrest of an innocent Muslim family. These events show how many people are still not able to look past physical or religious differences. By failing to do so, they cannot get to know someone and appreciate them for who they are on the inside. Instead, these differences lead to blame being wrongly placed on innocent people. This fuels even more ignorant prejudice and the false stereotypes then contribute to a more racist atmosphere and prevent us from reaching our full potential.
Current racism and stereotyping are directly related to the Holocaust. Before World War II, Germany’s economy was doing very poorly. The Nazi party turned to the Jews as scapegoats and falsely accused them of being the cause of all the problems. This created thick tension between Jews and non- Jews. However, the Jews tried to be optimistic about their pending futures. In Night, Wiesel himself recalls that their “first impressions of the Germans were most reassuring” (Wiesel 19). It was impossible for anyone to imagine the torture and suffering that would shortly follow the German occupation. As heartbreaking as the hopeful optimism is, it demonstrates that the Jewish community recognized the need for acceptance in order to make progress towards achieving and maintaining peace. They completely accepted that people followed different religions than their own.
Sadly, the Jews were not in a position of power during that time; instead they were the victims of a terrible atrocity. The lack of acceptance, or even tolerance, found in the Nazis that caused the Holocaust is paralleled in today’s world in racist and discriminatory actions: we still hear about discrimination and hate crimes – such as the vandalism of a Church in Virginia, as well as the aforementioned old turbaned Sikh man and the Muslim family – in the news. The effort that is the expended into committing and then administering justice for these actions would be much better off if used to help to propel the world forward. Realistically, the situation today is not nearly as bad as it was decades ago in Europe, but the Shoah is a prime example of what can go wrong when such ideas are not stopped.
Not only was the Holocaust an exhibition of moral depravity, it did not move Germany towards a successful future at all. In fact, it did exactly the opposite. The innocent Jews that were killed were productive members of their communities and their deaths were significant losses to the society as a whole. In the very beginning of his memoir, Wiesel recalls that in Sighet, his dad was “held in the greatest esteem” (Wiesel 14). Someone like him, who was kind enough to help others and responsible and wise enough to give sound advice would have been as asset to any community of which he decided to be a part. His death, and those of the other Jews, definitely did not “cleanse Germany” like the Nazis propagated, but rather hindered Germany from reaching its full potential. This is one mistake we need to make sure we never repeat in this world. If we refuse to accept others’ differences, it is an insult to the memory of everyone who suffered in the Holocaust.
There are instances of kindness in Night where it is evident that some non-Jewish individuals had recognized the need for acceptance in order to achieve peace. When Elie’s family finds out about the deportation plan, their maid offers to hide them at her house away from the police. This would have been a great risk for her, but that woman had the foresight and kindness to understand what the Wiesel family’s fate would be if she did not try to help. She realized killing innocent people is never the answer and set an example of the kind of person we should all try to be.
However, being kind and accepting does not always entail making life-threatening sacrifices. A much easier situation to relate to is that of school bullies. We all go through the phase where fitting in seems like the most important thing. In elementary school, I was the new girl and I started school right after everyone had just established their best friends for that year. As a result of that, it was not easy for me to make friends and at first, I played alone on the playground because none of the other kids wanted to risk the jealously of their other peers by befriending the “new girl.” However, one girl noticed and started to play with me. It may sound terribly tacky, but that is a classic example of how we can promote acceptance in the simplest actions. In the world of a young child, actions such as hers are considered brave because everything revolves around being cool and not being different.
The very rare kindness that is captured in Night teaches us a lot about ourselves and the world we live in. It shows us how important acceptance and tolerance really are towards achieving peace by hinting at “what-ifs” and “could have beens,” By relating this lesson to the world as a whole and then specifying it down to our own daily lives, past experiences, and what we see and hear around us, we can understand it. Wiesel’s memoir demonstrates this by focusing on the hope of Jewish people and the rare kindness shown to them by a few individuals who are not blinded by false prejudices. It teaches us to look past stereotypes so that we can make the world a better place for everyone.