The Psychological Transformation of Holocaust Victims Caused by the Fight to Survive in Two Novels: Elie Wiesel's Night and Art Spiegelman's Maus

Viktor Frankl, A holocaust survivor, once stated “…in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal,” (Victor Frankl Quotes) These l’animal” behaviors became quite common during the holocaust; they were essential to the survival of most individuals. In two novels, Night by Elie Wiesel and Maus by Art Spiegelman, it was proven time and time again that both of the main characters had to lie, cheat, and steal in order to make it through the terrors of the holocaust During the Holocaust, in order to survive, prisoners had to change their behaviors and natural instincts to one an animal might have- the instinct of only caring for their own survival and doing whatever that would take.

The events of the Holocaust left the main character, Eliezer, in the novel Night astounded, he was forced to alter his inherent instincts in order to obtain the basic human needs such as food and water.

In the novel Night, Eliezer tells about about a time near the end of the holocaust, his father, some others, and he, were all on a train heading to the last concentration camp they would ever see: Buchenwald. On this long train ride, a piece of bread is thrown into their portion of the train, and the remaining survivors fight to death over it, killing whoever is in the way. Eliezer specifically remembers one old man’s struggle with his son; ” Meir, Meir, my boy! Don’t you recognize me? I’m your father“, you’re hurting me,“ you’re killing your father” (Wiesel 96).

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The son was in a state of starvation, he valued the single ration of bread over his own father’s life. This boy felt that his only way to survive was to obtain this small ration of bread no matter the consequences to him or his family.

As a result of the holocaust, he was forced to go against one of the most basic human norms: to protect family at all costs. Not only were Holocaust survivors involuntarily forced to kill family members, and people of their community, but lying was also a necessity to the survival of prisoners. In the novel Night Eliezer and his father arrived at a concentration camp, at the time, Eliezer was 15 and his father was 50. They were instructed by another Jew that they should lie about their age, to say that they were 18 and 40; “How old are you?” he asked, in an attempt at a paternal tone of voice. ‘Eighteen.‘ My voice was shaking ‘are you in good health?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What‘s your occupation?’ Should I say that I was a student? ‘Farmer,‘ (Wiesel 87) I heard myself sayi” By lying both about his age and about his occupation; he was a student and not a farmer he was able to escape the crematory.

Usually Lying ends one up in a worse position than originally, yet during the holocaust lying was one of the only ways to sustain your own life. Just like Eliezer, Valdek from the book Maus 1 also had to use deception in order to escape death. Valdek had formed a contraband business in which he would deliver illegal goods to other people in order to earn extra food for his family. One time while out, he was caught by two Nazi’s, he quickly lied and said that he was a grocery store ownerjust delivering sugar to the local grocery store. He did not have papers at the time so he was very afraid of being caught He stated that “I went to the back door where I had to deliver.,, ‘Open up Poldek… I’ve got our sugar.‘ And they let me go without even checking my papers!” (Spiegelman 85) During the Holocaust, Vladek developed the ability to lie on the spot- to be able to create a false statement that would deter the Nazi’s or whoever threatened his life.

This capability was essential to survive because just like the sugar incident, there were many more times in which he could have been hanged, shot, or executed because of actions that were not approved by the Nazis’, but instead, he was able to think of a small fable in which he used to escape the fate that awaited him. The holocaust was a series of gruesome events that forced prisoners to change their identities in order to have a chance to survive and to escape. In both novels Night by Elie Wiesel and Mous 1 by Art Spiegelman, the main characters are forced to alter their behaviors by lying, cheating, stealing, and killing in order to survive. Once a person has been dehumanized, their entire behaviors change, due to the atrocious events of the Holocaust. Once an individual has been altered for the first time, there is no way that one individual can ever be the same again, the impact lasts throughout their lifetime.

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The Psychological Transformation of Holocaust Victims Caused by the Fight to Survive in Two Novels: Elie Wiesel's Night and Art Spiegelman's Maus. (2023, Feb 18). Retrieved from

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