During my first year as a teacher, a student from my tenth grade English class asked me to recommend a book for her to read in class when she was finished her work – she was faster than most of the other students. I gave her my copy of Elie Wiesel’s Night. She read it in three days and was blown away by Wiesel’s raw honesty. Night told the story of the Holocaust in a way she had never experienced, and it fueled a desire to read and learn more about what happened to the people on both sides of this horrific mass murder.
Ever since then, I have been recommending and teaching Night to students whenever I can. It’s a brutal, shocking story, and some might argue that it isn’t appropriate for young teens, but I disagree. Elie Wiesel was an adolescent himself when he went to Auschwitz. He tells his story through the eyes of a boy roughly the same age as my students. There isn’t anything sensational or gratuitous about his storytelling. It is simply an account of what happened to him and his family when the Nazis implemented their “Final Solution,” and there is no more powerful or valuable way for students to learn about the Holocaust.
Students learn the basic facts of the Holocaust in their Social Studies classes. They learn that the Nazis killed more than 6 million Jews, and millions of other people they deemed “undesirable.” They learn about the cattle cars, the death camps, and the gas chambers. But learning these facts is only the very beginning of understanding what truly occurred in Auschwitz and the other Nazi concentration camps.
Wiesel’s Night provides a first-hand account of what the Holocaust was like for one teenage boy, and this one account brings far more understanding to students than any array of facts, no mater how extensive. Night puts readers in Elie Wiesel’s shoes, providing a personal, unforgettable journey.
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