When millions of Jews faced the horrors of the Holocaust, many lost everything, including their lives. However, for the ones who survived, the struggle was to find what was left behind for them in their lives. They were not returning home as themselves, but the ghosts and shadows of people who have seen the worst of humanity and themselves. For Eliezer Wiesel, a teenager when the Holocaust began, he returned home and wrote the book Night. In the book he recounts the struggles he faced and, through this, the aspects of himself he has lost and the aspects of himself that he had gained from the experience. While his closing lines may reflect that he sees a corpse in the mirror when he returns home, it is his enduring strength and faith that lives on.
When Eliezer sees his face reflected in a mirror after facing the horrors of the concentration camps he is seeing the death of his childhood and of innocence, of which he can never return to. His reflection is significant in many ways; the first being that since he is the representation of his parents and sister, his reflection is a sign of his loss of family throughout the Holocaust. The second being that the book as a whole is a reflection; he is reflecting not only on his journey through the past few years of his life but also reflecting on the goodness and badness that resides within himself. At that point, “A corpse gazed back” (Wiesel and Wiesel 115) because the feelings and pain of the events were so fresh that his own spiritual death was apparent. A third significance is that his reflection represents the walking dead; at this point his hopes and dreams seemed unreachable and he didn’t seem to have a purpose in life.
The “corpse” that gazed back at Eliezer in the mirror was two parts of himself; the first being the literal body of malnourishment and abuse and the second being the deathlike remnants of his soul. Having not seen his physical presence in a mirror since he had left the ghetto, the starved face staring back at him must have been a shock. However, it is his eyes that reflect the haunted state that his mind is in. In the midst of the book, Eliezer writes, “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes” (Wiesel and Wiesel 22). He has lost his childhood and his family, his faith has been shaken to the core, and any hopes of reaching his dreams have been shattered. He had, in essence, lost his ability to go back to life as he knew it before, including his ability to be a young man in the sense of freedom and few responsibilities.
From the loss of these aspects of himself, there was room for other parts of Eli to grow; including his faith, his sense of self and his strength. While there were moments in the ordeal that he doubted his faith and his ability to believe in God, it was this doubt that cemented his faith. Through the utter destruction of so many aspects of his life, Eliezer emerged from the experience with a better sense of himself than most people. He lived through horrific situations and made decisions (good and bad) and reflected on the correctness or incorrectness of the actions so that he was able to understand the man that he had become. When his father is dying and crying out for his son, Eli struggles with apathy and has a profound realization of his faults; Eliezer decides to go to bed instead of seeking out his father (Wiesel and Wiesel 111). This brutal honesty of himself in confessing this to the reader allows him to understand, without bravado or ego, his shortcomings. However, the greatest aspect that Eli gains from the experience is the strength and power of the human spirit, including his own spirit. Facing death on a daily basis, his own mortality and the loss of his family, it would have been easy to give up but Eli was able to stand before the mirror and see himself.
In the pain and rawness of the atrocities of the Holocaust, Eliezer Wiesel wrote the book Night to share his experience of loss and despair and insight into the man that he is and the faults that he possesses. Although the book ends very soon after his release from a concentration camp, there are also aspects that the reader notices that while Eliezer has lost everything, there is still hope because he is strong in spirit and in faith.
Wiesel, Elie, and Marion Wiesel. Night. Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.