Trauma and Genocide – Thoughts after reading Night

I have read Night several times and found that each time I read it, different things stuck with me. I had never read it while looking through the lens of trauma. So, this time, a particular quote stood out to me early in the novel, that colored the way I read the rest of the narrative. “The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion” (Wiesel, 2006, p. 12).

Wiesel is careful to detail his thoughts or misconceptions throughout the novel, giving the reader an inside look at the trauma he had experienced. The quote mentioned above really stood out to me because it described one of the most common coping mechanisms or symptoms experienced during the traumatic event. The “delusion” Wiesel notes in the beginning of the novel, describes the way many people disassociate with trauma in order to cope with and survive the experience. I found it helpful to remember the quote throughout my reading in order to tie that idea of dissociation with Wiesel’s reaction to events as they unfolded.

In the same chapter, an effort by a police officer to warn the family was unsuccessful. Wiesel seemed to appreciate the officer’s attempt but, as a reader, I wondered why he had not tried to do more. It is similar to the events unfolding at the southern border, where human rights are being violated, thousands are being exposed to traumatic situations, and millions of Americans are silent. Even those that try to voice outrage have been unable to make any meaningful changes.

In this course, we learned that it is necessary to be able to identify trauma early on and try to prevent it; it is not enough to treat the symptoms but must also understand and treat the cause. Why, then, do we sit back in the face of genocide and not seek to address the trauma experienced by those affected? Is it because we too are traumatized by what we see? Do we hide in willful ignorance to avoid secondary trauma or compassion fatigue? These questions have been central to my reading of Night and even more important when reviewing the information about trauma and genocide.

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