Trauma And Resilience: Night By Elie Wiesel

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Elie Wiesel, the author of Night and a Noble Peace Prize winner, was also a person who suffered trauma in his life. “That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life – that is what is abnormal” by Elie Wiesel (BrainyQuote, 2020). Over 11 million different people were killed during one of the worst times in the world’s history. Beyond the surface of those heinous actions, it affected countless millions more, the trauma of what happened there is going to last throughout time. The novel Night by Elie Wiesel talks about the adversities that he and others went through as they tried to survive the Holocaust. The question is to what extent do trauma, tragedy, and adversity build resilience. In the following paragraphs, the analysis will figure out to what extent trauma and adversity have on the psychological, spiritual, and physical resilience of people that suffered that during one of the most stressful times in all of world history, the Holocaust.

Trauma affects people in many ways, one of the ways it affects people is psychological. Psychological trauma is damage to the mind that comes from a stressful event. The trauma from this results in the inability to cope with the emotions involved with that experience. One of the things that come from the novel Night is how Wiesel had difficulties at first with trying to cope with all this additional stress he is going through. Also, how Wiesel was surprised/disappointed with himself when certain things happened around him and he stayed mute to the situation. This is shown in the book when Wiesel says,

“I stood petrified. What had happened to me? My father had just been struck, in front of me, and I had not even blinked. I had watched and kept silent. Only yesterday, I would have dug my nails into this criminal’s flesh. Had I changed that much? So fast? Remorse began to gnaw at me. All I could think was: I shall never forgive them for this. My father must have guessed my thoughts because he whispered in my ear” (Wiesel, 1958) (39).

What this meant was that Wiesel was surprised and horrified to believe he would have let this happen; Wiesel wondered that what inside of Wiesel changed from the day prior. If Wiesel would have seen that happen then, Wiesel’s actions would have been different, why today of all days Wiesel did not do that.

From that moment forward in the novel, time and time again, Wiesel became muter to the things that were happening around him. Wiesel became more resilient as part of that as well because, throughout the repeated trauma that Wiesel went through, the less and less Wiesel cared about what was happening to Wiesel and the people around Wiesel. Towards the end of Wiesel’s time in those concentration camps Wiesel spent most of Wiesel’s time wanting to eat, Wiesel had no desire to do anything else. The article Do Holocaust Survivors Show Increased Vulnerability or Resilience to Post-Holocaust Cumulative Adversity: by Amit Shrira, Yuval Palgi, Menachem Ben-Ezra, and Dov Shmotkin research and others research concluded with the idea that younger people who went through the Holocaust and survived showed more susceptibility for PTSD because of the repeated trauma that they had to go through early stages of their lives. PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a traumatic event, either by witnessing it or by being a part of it. Some of the symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety over those events. These symptoms are shown in the story at different times. Wiesel was anxious for selection and most of the story was flashbacks, which is normal for a biography. It was to the extent of having specific flashbacks with specific details where trauma was present in the situation, either to Wiesel or to others (Shrira, Palgi, Ben-Ezra, & Shmotkin, 2010).

Another way trauma can affect people is through spiritual trauma. Spiritual trauma or as it is commonly known as religious trauma is the abuse that was administered under the guise of religion, which includes harassment or humiliation. These events can result in psychological trauma, to the people that are repeatedly harassed or made fun of for their beliefs or their religion. In the novel it was shown as a constant thing, when the German army took over the Jewish population, they constantly harassed, humiliated, and even killed Jewish people every day. This constant abuse and harassment tore down many peoples’ beliefs in religious affairs, most people that were very religious began to question their beliefs because why would a god have them suffer like this.

Mostly everyone like Wiesel became resilient to the harassment of being Jewish, they learned to live with it, for the most part, most of them tried to keep their faith, but everyone by the end was having their doubts about a god. Because of Wiesel’s suffering during the Holocaust Wiesel’s beliefs and dreams were shattered. This is shown in the book when Wiesel says,

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.” (Wiesel, 1958) (34).

This meant that Wiesel will never forget Wiesel's first day Wiesel was in this awful place, Wiesel will never forget the things Wiesel had seen or gone through. Wiesel will never forget the day that destroyed Wiesel’s beliefs and turned Wiesel’s dreams into nothingness.

The trauma Wiesel was exposed to early on, with Wiesel’s life, changed his entire viewpoint of Wiesel’s beliefs of what Wiesel wanted to accomplish with Wiesel’s life. Wiesel will never forget Wiesel’s time trapped in those concentration camps, Wiesel will never again believe in faith or to have dreams. Wiesel’s and other times there were marred with complex trauma. Complex trauma is children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events often of invasive, interpersonal nature, and the effects of complex trauma are long-lasting. Most of which leads to a higher chance of PTSD, like the article said with there being a higher chance of PTSD if you were a part of stressful situations like Wiesel was being in the Holocaust. The authors of the article also talked about complex trauma and the effect it can have on the ability of people to have substantial relationships in social environments. Which from that information we can hypothesize Wiesel has from Wiesel’s early traumatic events dealing with trauma. That Wiesel would have weaker social support, lower levels of enjoyable and social lifestyle activities, and Wiesel would suffer from a substantial loss of psychological developmental opportunities. Which would have the ability to tarnish Wiesel’s hopes and dreams, and even to the extent of Wiesel’s faith? Which because of Wiesel’s time there Wiesel shows the symptoms of having a higher chance of PTSD and other developmental disorders like complex trauma as well (Shrira, Palgi, Ben-Ezra, & Shmotkin, 2010).

Another trauma field that is shown in the book is physical trauma. Physical trauma is a serious injury to the body, either by blunt force or penetrating trauma. Blunt force trauma is the one that is relatively shown throughout the novel. Blunt force trauma is when an object, either inhuman or human, strikes the body, causing concussions, deep cuts, broken bones, or something that does severe damage to the body. You can narrow down the extent of what physical trauma can do to the body it affects.

Physical trauma is also a thing that was a major trauma during the Holocaust that most Jewish people had to become resilient to and just live with. If they acted out, they got beat and even if they didn’t act out, they got beat. It was a thing that they had to get used to during that time. Throughout Wiesel’s time in the concentration camps, Wiesel went through physical trauma, with the repeated beatings that Wiesel went through. One of the times where Wiesel showed resilience to the pain of the beatings was when Wiesel was caught not working as Wiesel should be, so Wiesel was rewarded twenty-five lashes because of not working. This is shown in the novel when Wiesel says,

“I felt the sweat running down my back. ‘A-7713!’ I stepped forward. ‘A crate!’ he ordered. They brought a crate ‘Lie down on it!’ On your belly!’ I obeyed. I no longer felt anything except the lashes of the whip. ‘One!...Two!...’ he was counting. He took his time between the lashes. Only the first really hurt. I heard him count:...” (Wiesel, 1958) (57).

This meant that even though Wiesel was receiving those lashes, Wiesel became resilient to the pain. Wiesel knew for better to not yell out in pain, it will be better off for Wiesel to just be silent and accept the beatings. Wiesel even had an operation on Wiesel’s foot, to stop the swelling in Wiesel’s foot, and two days afterward Wiesel got up and left with the rest of the inmates in the camp. Regardless of the pain, Wiesel was going through with Wiesel’s foot. Wiesel showed Wiesel’s resilience through all the pain and trauma Wiesel went through with Wiesel’s foot. The article also talked about Holocaust survivors would report higher emotional distress, but they would not differ in physical functioning relative to comparison groups (Shrira, Palgi, Ben-Ezra, & Shmotkin, 2010). This meant that Holocaust survivors would not have any lasting effects of physical trauma to their bodies, but the memories of the pain will always be there. This shows that Wiesel’s physical trauma would have been easier to be resilient because the pain is only temporary. Only the memory of the pain that is left lasts, not the pain, which is one of the things Wiesel talks about, the memories of this place Wiesel can never forget.

With the analysis of these two works, it is shown that Wiesel has shown resilience throughout his time in those concentration camps during the Holocaust. Through all the psychological, spiritual, and physical trauma Wiesel with through in Wiesel’s life Wiesel stayed resilient and never gave up on surviving and living Wiesel’s life to the fullest (Wiesel, 1958). There is going to be residual trauma that will always affect Wiesel, most of the people that survived the Holocaust as Wiesel did will end up with PTSD. Wiesel’s emotional processing will always be affected because of his time there (Shrira, Palgi, Ben-Ezra, & Shmotkin, 2010). What stressful situations have you been a part of or stuck in, if you analyze the effects it may have on you, you might be able to understand what other people may have gone through.

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