Before we recognize components of dehumanization, we must first understand our humanistic components. We must acknowledge the (human) qualities before we reckon those who removes them. This question, however, (what makes us human) has baffled philosophers for two-and-a-half millennia, therefore, by transitive logic, it is very hard to pin down the exact causes of dehumanization; but in Wiesel’s Night, the causes of dehumanization becomes somewhat clear. Elie uses succinct sentencing to analyze these forces that killed God in the soul of a child (Wiesel xix).
Hitler wanted to eradicate a race. Those he didn’t send to the crematoria, but rather to the work camps, found much of their human qualities disembodied form them. The first night at the camp Wiesel claims that he had ceased to be a man, that the prisoners all became “different people” (Wiesel 37). Later Eliezer’s name was taken from him, and replaced with a number: A-7713. “From then on, [he] had no other name” (Wiesel 42). Once a boy committed to “the idea of studying Kabbalah” (Wiesel 4), at the camps young Wiesel forgave his religion, and forgot his god.
Human attributes “deloused” at the gates of the camps include those of culture (religion, ethics and beliefs, customs, holidays, etc.), identity (our sense of self, character, our name, belongings, etc), and human emotion (compassion, sympathy, love, etc.) These absences of humans in the camps, if you will, is exemplified by Elizer’s “ceasing to pray” (Wiesel 45), the Polish “Blockalteste [being] removed … [for being] … judged as too humane” (Wiesel 44), fellow prisoners turning on one another: such as Idek “venting” his fury on Elizer. Throwing himself on him like a wild beast (Wiesel 53), and the forgiving of personal belongings: leaving all that they carried behind on the cattle cars (Wiesel 28).
Through the lens of Wiesel, the hard question has been answered. At the camps
culture (religion, ethics and beliefs, customs, holidays, etc.);
identity (our sense of self, character, our name, belongings, etc);
and emotion (compassion, sympathy, love, happiness, etc.)
was removed from the souls of the prisoners. With those three (human) characteristics absent, they were dehumanized. But what was the cause of their dehumanization?
Throughout Night, Wiesel constantly references the smoke spewing from the crematoria’s chimney. At the camp, words embody a different connotation (Wiesel ix), a different (symbolic) meaning. Those under the smoke’s shadow was constantly reminded of their loved ones, and of the ten-million innocent souls, who were persecuted by their very own oppressor. Those deaths remained as real as the smoke itself. The smoke was a reminder of the fate they all lingered so close to. It was the last of their loved ones. It was the end of their heritage. But It was only smoke. Dehumanizing smoke.