English teachers have been assigning Elie Weisel's memoir of the Holocaust for 30 years -- here's why

Author, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, died Saturday, at 87.

Wiesel’s most famous work, “Night,” is a an autobiographical account of his time spent in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald from 1944 to 1945.

Over the past 30 years, it’s become a mainstay of required reading lists in high school English classes across the nation.

“At this point in time, I would say “Night” is practically ubiquitous,” Carol Jago, distinguished English teacher and former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, told Business Insider.

“I’ve seen a lot of high school reading lists and mostly in ninth and tenth grade everyone is teaching it,” Jago, who has taught English to middle and high school students for 32 years, added.

“Night” relays the horrors of the Holocaust in sparse, tormented prose. During Wiesel’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize
in 1986 he spoke about his reasons for continuing to share his memories of the Holocaust.

“Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices,” he said.

In “Night,” Wiesel doesn’t retreat from sharing the horrors he experienced:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

“Night” also focuses on Wiesel’s guilt watching his father die while feeling resentful for having to be his caretaker, as well as his disillusionment with humanity and his own religion.

Those themes resonate with young people, according to Jago.

“In my experience, teenagers love thinking about and talking about a loss of belief or a loss of faith,” Jago said. “The extent to which Elie Weisel almost goes feral to survive; young readers think, “What would I do?” she explained.

Originally an 800-page text, “Night” was pared down to about 120 and translated into French, then English. It has since been translated into 30 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

For English classrooms around the US, it seems that “Night” will continue to remain a staple for years to come.

“This is a text that has entered the American curriculum 30 years ago, and it is sticking,” Jago said. “There has not been a replacement, and I think that speaks to its power.

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