Academic journal article Shofar

Approaches to Teaching Wiesel's Night

Academic journal article Shofar

Approaches to Teaching Wiesel's Night

Article excerpt

Approaches to Teaching Wiesel's Night, edited by Alan Rosen. New York: MLA, 2007. 169 pp. $37.50 (c); $19.75 (p).

In 2004 the MLA published Teaching the Representation of the Holocaust (ed. Marianne Hirsch and Irene Kacandes). It featured many excellent essays about Holocaust pedagogy but just one article specifically about teaching Night. Building on that earlier volume, we now have Approaches to Teaching Wiesel's Night, which appears as part of the MLAs series Approaches to Teaching World Literature. This valuable collection comes fifty years after the initial publication of Night in Yiddish.

Part One covers various editions and texts of Night and recommends related readings and audiovisual materials for teachers.

Part Two consists of three sections. The first section, Historical and Cultural Contexts, opens with a Nehemia Polen essay that brings the veiled cultural and religious background of Night into the foreground. Polen provides a crystalline, concise introduction to the principles of Judaism and the distinguishing features of Jewish thought from the Biblical period to Rabbinic Judaism through mysticism and Hasidism. This furnishes an ideal primer for the teacher who is not familiar with these traditions - and a nice refresher for the teacher who is. Polen uses that background to explain that Night is a "counternarrative, almost a counter-Torah" that subverts the Biblical image of a God who possesses the "power to intervene in history, to deliver from danger, and to free from bondage." Simone Giglioni offers history instructors several approaches for teaching about "the trauma of transit" endured in deportation journeys, contending that including Wiesel's memoir in the teaching of history is not only justified but "integral." Gigliotti shows how the survivor testimony of Night can be taught alongside historians' accounts to illuminate students' understanding of the deportation experience. Traditional historical approaches to the subject "confirm a stereotype of efficient bureaucracy employed in the business of mass murder," Gigliotti argues, and thereby "echo the perpetrators' view of their victims as objects of a process." Wiesel's memoir humanizes the study of traumatic transit, but it also ereveals the process as far from orderly from the victims' perspective; the memoir thereby serves as "a major corrective to the controversial perception of deportees as ostensibly voluntary, willing, and docile victims." Michael Berenbaum discusses Night in the context of Auschwitz, covering the camp's structure, the demographics of its victims, specific roles and terms (Sonderkommando and Muselman), the death march of "walking skeletons," and the challenge that Auschwitz presented to Jewish theology. Alan L. Berger weighs the advantages of teaching Night alone or in combination with Wiesel's later works. Berger describes his own classroom strategies and reading assignments, and his students' responses to reading Night "in dialogue with the later memoirs." This dialogue enriches his students' understanding of whether Wiesel truly lost faith in Night . . . and of his continuing quest "for a credible post- Auschwitz theology."

The second section focuses on Literary Contexts. Jan Schwarz's welcome contribution places the original Yiddish text of Night in the context of other Yiddish literature of the time. Judith Clark Schaneman, a professor of French, recounts the pedagogical journey that has enabled her to use the French version of Night (La nuit) to move students as deeply as she was moved by the book while supplying them with adequate historical and comparative literary perspectives. …

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