Suggestions from the Eugene Book Group:
Dawn by Elie Weisel
Reviewed by Dorothy Sampson
Is there a difference, even a fine line, between killing and murder? This is the central question in the story Elie Weisel tells in Dawn. What if the perpetrator is fighting for a good cause? What if the perpetrator has suffered wanton cruelty orchestrated by the institutional racism of the Nazis? What if he lost everything but his life? Does any of this justify him killing another human being?
Wiesel states in the introduction to the 2006 translation to his first book Night, that all of his writings can only be understood by reading this autobiographical account of an adolescent Jewish boy and his father in Auschwitz. In the death camp, he witnessed and was subjected to horror.
The young man, Elisha, in Wiesel’s novel, Dawn, had a similar background. He lived through the unspeakable atrocities of Buchenwald. After the war, he settled in Jerusalem and joined the underground. The Movement was engaged in a desperate struggle to wrest Israel from British control. Instead of being the ones afraid, the “freedom fighters” become terrorists with the power to strike fear in the English hearts. Transformation from being victim to such power was exhilarating.
Elisha cannot help comparing his terrorist actions to the actions of the dreaded SS guards, and he “found himself utterly hateful.” He understands he is losing his humanity. Then he is ordered to retaliate for the British hanging of a fellow “freedom fighter” by executing a British officer his group has captured. Elisha goes to the basement where they are holding the condemned man. He’s hoping to hate him. But after talking together, hate will not come. As dawn approaches in the novel, the reader is increasingly horrified. Will Elisha follow orders?
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