Brianne Cardle Ms. Blackmer English 9, Period 1

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Brianne Cardle

Ms. Blackmer

English 9, Period 1

15 November 2016

Comparing Concentration Camps

Imagine leaving your everyday life behind because the government told you to, all because of your race and beliefs. For Elie Wiesel in Night and Jeanne Wakatsuki in Farewell to Manzanar, this was their reality. In Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston, Jeanne, who was just seven years old, and her whole family were forced into an internment camp along with all of the other Japanese living near the coasts of America, and in Night by Elie Wiesel, Elie and his family were forced into a camp in Europe called Auschwitz, yet the conditions in that camp were much worse than the camp Jeanne was in. THESIS: When governments create concentration camps, the prisoners invariably end up in bad conditions, regardless of the purpose of the camp.


First, while Night and Farewell to Manzanar both describe family housing situations, the differences between their conditions in the two books is very extreme. At Auschwitz, the prisoners were separated by gender, which meant families wouldn’t live together. Elie explained how he was separated from his mother almost immediately: “An SS noncommissioned officer came to meet us, at truncheon in his hand. He gave us the order: ‘Men to the left! Women to the right!’...Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother”(27). This meant that Elie and his father would not be able to live with the girls in their family which broke their family apart. By contrast, at Manzanar the families were assigned to small barracks to all live in together. “Each barracks was divided into six units, sixteen by twenty feet, about the size of a living room, with one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and an oil stove for heat. We were assigned two of these for the 12 people in our family group…”(15). Although they were crowded, the families were all kept together instead of being separated like Elie’s family was.

In addition, Night and Farewell to Manzanar both discussed the topic of possessions, but what the prisoners were allowed to have at the two camps was not at all similar. The prisoners at Auschwitz were allowed nothing, not even the clothes that they were wearing when they got there. “‘Strip! Fast! Los! Keep only your belts and shoes in your hands…’ We had to throw our clothes at one end of the barracks... For us this was the true reality: nakedness”(32). The prisoners had to take all of their clothes off, but were given nothing to keep them warm except for thin shirts and pants, which lead to people freezing to death as they lost their body fat because they were starving. By contrast, Jeanne’s mom had to choose what to bring to Manzanar because the prisoners were allowed to bring whatever they could transport to the camp. “She had brought along her pottery, her silver, heirlooms like the kimonos Granny had brought from Japan, tea sets, lacquered tables, and one fine old set of china, blue and white porcelain, almost translucent. On the day we were leaving, Woody’s car was so crowded with boxes and luggage and kids we had just run out of room”(10). This must have been hard, only being able to take a few of the things you love with you, but at Auschwitz they didn’t have to decide what to bring because the choice was made for them: nothing.

Last, both novels also describe the food served in each camp, and while it was anything but extravagant at both camps, the food situation between the two camps differed greatly. The food at Auschwitz was lacking, and they usually were only fed soup and some bread. “That night the soup tasted of corpses”(65). The soup was bland and plain, so the night after a young boy was hanged, the soup tasted of the emotions the prisoners were feeling. In contrast, there was plenty of food at Manzanar it was just poorly prepared and often spoiled. “Later, it was the food that made us sick, young and old alike. The kitchens were too small and badly ventilated. Food would spoil from being left out too long. That summer, when the heat got fierce, it would spoil faster. The refrigeration kept breaking down. The cooks, in many cases, had never cooked before”(23). The prisoners were fed well, but the food was disgusting. This was obviously better than no food like Auschwitz where they were starving the prisoners, but the two situations were still not ideal for any human being.

In conclusion, these two novels display how cruel and heartless people can be to their fellow human beings. Even though conditions at Manzanar were obviously not as bad as the conditions at Auschwitz, it was still inhuman and brutal to discriminate against minority groups and put them in such horrible places, during and after the war. These stories are important to read so that people remember the disgusting actions that governments took towards the innocent citizens of their country and so that events like these never happen again. I realized that governments have a lot of power and they can choose harsh ways to use it, and I am so glad that these type of camps are extremely frowned upon nowadays.
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