I remember the first time I read Elie Wiesel’s Night. I was a student in middle school at a Jewish Day School where memories of the Holocaust saturated the very air we breathed. Many of our Hebrew teachers were survivors. Most of my classmates’ grandparents were survivors. Graphic photographs, films, and memoirs about the Holocaust had been part of our curriculum since the second grade. But reading Night was different.
I found the book in the school library and read it in a single sitting. Wiesel’s voice pushed me forward, as though if I stumbled over his words, we would both collapse from pain and exhaustion. And yet there was one image that caught me breathless, and which I have kept close ever since.
Towards the closing pages of the book, Wiesel described himself standing before the mirror in the camp infirmary. He hasn’t seen his reflection since he was deported, in another place, another life. And he struggles to recognize himself, to understand his starving and ragged appearance. How can the image he sees be a true reflection of who he believes himself to be?
I felt Wiesel’s shock. The pain of his loss. His fear and incomprehension. And this image has inspired ever since. As with so much of Wiesel’s writing, I saw this scene as a challenge. When I am face to face with myself, who will I see reflected my mirror? What do I want to see? What would I want to deny? My reflection will betray my experiences, and Wiesel demands that the values of justice, love, kindness, and freedom direct my actions.
Out of despair one creates. What else can one do?