The Holocaust: every time is like the first time

by Mr. Sheehy

Can certain things get old? We’re studying Elie Weisel’s Night, and each time we begin this unit, by exploring web resources on the Holocaust and watching Oprah Winfrey’s interview and documentary with Mr. Weisel, the impact is similarly powerful. I think the true power for me are the stark images, preserved in the myriad photographs as well as in the sparse and simple writing style of Weisel. A recent article from my old college adviser, Alan Jacobs, has reasserted for me the appropriateness of Weisel’s style for conveying the experiences of Auschwitz: sparse, direct, and vivid, with attention not on his act of writing, but on the act of horror which he lived.

After watching the Oprah video, students shared what was most vivid and lasting in their minds. I thought I’d let their collection of words speak:

  • “The baby clothes”
  • “The part that really stayed with me was the huge pile of babies’ shoes. And that babies were just put into fires and killed. How could a person do that?”
  • “There was a picture that I saw. The picture was a hole in the ground. A big hoe filled with dead babies.”
  • “The one thing that stuck to me was the babies being thrown into the fire and the clothes that they saw for the babies; that none of them had made it and gotten to live their life.”
  • “That the Nazis would just throw the babies in the fire and let them burn and make the Jews clean up the mess.”
  • “The experiments. The live autopsies performed.”
  • “The shoes”
  • “The first gate to the concentration camps and all of the others with the weird German sayings. The Jews did not know what they were going to.”
  • “The picture of all the dead bodies in the crematory.”
  • “The picture with the woman and the children in line for a shower, not knowing they were going to be gassed. It really made me sick.”
  • “The millions of shoes that were stacked in the display was horrible. Every pair of shoes had a life story.”
  • “The shoes and how there were so many, which meant all of them used to have owners who are now dead.”
  • “People piled up and in ditches, all starved and worked and gassed and burned to death.”
  • “Women and children lining up to thin they were going to take a shower but actually lining up to die.”
  • “The people being so skinny, like the one where the two guys were walking away naked.”
  • “The barracks was a picture that stayed in my mind, since so many people were housed there.”
  • “That they took families and separated them and half would die and half would work before they died. They told people that they were going to be taking showers and they poisoned them.”
  • “The most saddest part was the babies’ clothes and the shoes.”
  • “The babies’ shoes and clothes.”
  • “The building that was burned down. i can just picture the Nazis feeble and disorganized attemptes to cover up what they had done.”
  • “That they fit over 100-? (I really can’t remember the actual number) into the barracks with four people to a bunk.”
  • “The most vivid image in my mind was the video of all the dead bodies just being dumped in one big hole.”
  • “Where they split the familes.”
  • “The children. I cried last time for them. I can’t be more clear about that, just plain and simple, the poor kids. The babies. The mothers with the babies in the gas chambers.”
  • “Dead bodies in a pile.”
  • “The faces.”
  • “The most vivid thing in my mind is the gateway in . . . because there was no gateway out.”