An Identity Crisis In Elie Wiesel's Genocide

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An (Identity) Crisis
Life is a valued concept, as are the people and experiences associated with it. However, when one is pushed to the limit of human capacity, they can lose familiarity with the value of their own life. Genocide-- the mass slaughter of a group of people based on their identity-- can have severe effects on the victimized people in a plethora of ways. One can not possibly quantify the grotesque, inhumane treatment witnessed in many genocides. Simultaneously, many victims are vulnerable to their identities being left behind and only their will to survive being left intact. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, recounts his experiences being at the hands of a brutal, systematic killing regime in his award-winning memoir, Night. Wiesel
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Wiesel suggests that genocide poses as dangerous a threat to one’s identity as it does to one’s safety.
The victims’ identities are neutralized, as the German officers try to ignore the individuality of the people who would soon become their prey. From the very incipient stages of his experience, Wiesel is stripped of his own possessions, things that contribute to his family’s own identity: “[...]The Hungarian police burst into every Jewish home in town: a Jew was henceforth forbidden to own gold, jewelry, or any valuables. Everything had to be handed over to the authorities, under penalty of death” (10-11). This marks the beginning of the careless, inhumane treatment of the Jewish people. Although one can usually survive without their valuable jewelry, the police assert their power and their willingness to take complete control over the victims’ lives from
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The SS officers refer to the prisoners as animals: ““Faster you filthy dogs!” We were no longer marching, we were running. Like automatons. The SS were running as well, weapons in hand” (85). The officers do not hesitate to make such degrading, animalistic remarks. Non-chalantly, the officers differentiate themselves from the prisoners through their speech as well as their actions. Even Wiesel recognizes that his fellow inmates have lost their human identity because of the pain and violence they suffer from. He recounts, “Abruptly, our doors opened. Strange-looking creatures, dressed in striped jackets and black pants, jumped into the wagon” (28). Wiesel’s first impression of the prisoners are that they cannot be human; they are all dressed alike, and Wiesel’s observations lead him to believe that they have lost their human identity and are nothing but creatures. The prisoners, due to their inhumane status, are forced to go without sufficient amounts of food. Wiesel describes the violent fight that ensues when a few scraps of bread are tossed in a crowded wagon, “Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker watched the spectacle with great interest” (100). While the men fighting for the food demonstrate their selfish survival instincts, more disturbingly, the worker enjoys watching. Wiesel is able to confirm the loss of humanity as he witnesses
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