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NIGHT TEST STUDY GUIDE
KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
Night is set during the Second World War. The first section of the novel begins in Sighet, a small town in Transylvania (Romania) and ends in a train which stops in Kaschau (Czechoslovakia).
The second section of the book continues in the train as the deportees head towards Auschwitz, the Death Camp.
In the third section, the setting shifts to Birkenau, which is the selection and disposal center for the prisoners. Elie and his father survive the selection process and enter Auschwitz, where they are both repeatedly tortured.
In the fourth section, they are marched to Buna, where the author stays for the longest period in the span of the book.
Section five is also set in Buna.
In section six, the prisoners are marched through snow to Gleiwitz, for the Germans do not want them to be liberated by the approaching Russian Army.
In the seventh section, the surviving prisoners are loaded in roofless cattle wagons and sent on a freezing ten-day journey to Buchenwald in Germany.
In the eighth section, Elie is seen nursing his sick father, who eventually dies at Buchenwald.
In the ninth and final section of the book, the Allied army arrives and frees the prisoners. After his release, Elie grows very ill and must be hospitalized. The book ends with his looking at himself in the mirror and thinking that he looks like a corpse.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Eliezer Wiesel (Elie)
The narrator, protagonist, and main character. Since he is a Jewish teenager living in Romania during Hitler's occupation and reign, he is persecuted and imprisoned. The book is really a telling of his experiences during the war.
Shlomo Wiesel (also translated as Chlomo)
Elie's father. He is a considerate and religious man and shopkeeper who is respected by the villagers. He is arrested along with his son and imprisoned in a concentration camp, where he dies.
Moshe the Beadle
A poor and lonely religious man. He tells terrifying tales about the condition of the Jews in concentration camps, which Elie and the villagers find hard to believe.
Elie's mother. She is a loving person who cares for her family and who works to infuse courage in others.
Elie's oldest sister, who works in the family grocery store. She is arrested and deported to a concentration camp. Like her brother, she manages to survive the experience.
Beatrice Wiesel (Bea)
Elie's older sister, who is the second child in the family. She also manages to survive.
Elie's younger sister, who does not survive the concentration camp. She gives an impression of both innocence and stoicism.
A relative who stays with the Wiesels in the Sighet ghetto.
Stein of Antwerp
A relative who meets Elie and his father at Auschwitz. He is worried about his wife and his sons. Elie cheers him by telling him the lie that his mother has been receiving letters from Steins' wife.
A villager who reports on the terror inflicted on Hungarian Jews.
Wiesel's neighbor. She provides temporary accommodation to a German officer.
The Hungarian Police Officer
A kind officer who assures Elie's father that he will inform him if there is danger. He keeps his promise.
A police officer in Sighet. He calls Chlomo Wiesel to attend a council meeting.
The considerate maidservant of the Wiesels, who offers them shelter and safety. Unfortunately Mr. Wiesel does not accept her offer.
A fifty year old deportee who has hallucinations of "fire and furnace" while traveling on the train.
Madame Schachter's son
A ten-year old boy who seems quite courageous for his age.
The son of a tradesman in Sighet. He is made to work in the crematory.
The brother of a Rabbi from Sighet. He weeps for Elie and his father when they arrive at Birkenau.
A singer with a deep voice; he dies in the concentration camp.
A Polish musician who plays the violin in Buna. He gives his final performance when the prisoners arrive at Gleiwitz and dies the next day.
A Dutch violinist who regrets that Jews are not allowed to play Beethoven's music.
A Berlin musician who tries to relax Elie, who is suffering from tension due to his assignment in the electrical warehouse.
A former student from Warsaw. He demands the gold from Elie's tooth and tries to bully him. Since Elie does not give him the gold tooth, he tortures his father.
Yossi and Tibi
Czech brothers whose parents are killed. They work in the electrical warehouse with Elie and become his friends.
A kind German Jew who gives extra soup to the young and the weak.
The French Jewess
A woman who pretends to be an Aryan to keep herself safe. She works in the electrical warehouse and befriends Elie.
The Young Thief from Warsaw
A strong young man who blesses liberty and curses the Germans before he is hung.
A kind supervisor who is tortured for blowing up Buna's power station. In spite of the torture, he does not name his co-conspirators.
A thirteen-year-old boy who looks angelic. He is an assistant to the Dutch Ogerkapo. When he is hanged, it takes him more than thirty minutes to die because he weighs so little.
An experienced man who guides the prisoners on how to pass through the selection process.
The Polish Rabbi
A Rabbi from a small town in Poland; he is a sincere student of the Talmud.
The hospitalized Hungarian Jew
A patient with severe dysentery. He lies in a bed near Elie. He is sure that he will not pass the selection test and believes that all Jews will be killed before the end of the war.
The Jewish doctor
A kind doctor who operates on Elie's infected foot.
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A worker in the electrical warehouse who dies during the journey from Buna.
An aged Rabbi. He desperately searches for his son, whom he cannot find during the journey from Buna.
A selfish and traitorous young man who leaves his father behind to save himself.
A strong gardener from Sighet. He helps to free Elie from an attacker in the train to Gleiwitz.
A violent Kapo in the Buna warehouse. He lashes Elie cruelly during one of his violent fits, because Elie has seen him lying on the mattress with a woman.
The Dentist from Czechoslovakia
A corrupt man who enriches himself by collecting gold teeth. He tries unsuccessfully to persuade Elie to give him his gold tooth.
The Dentist from Warsaw
A polish dentist who pulls out Elie's gold tooth, using a rusty spoon, instead of an extractor.
Since Night is the autobiographical account of Elie Wiesel during World War II, it does not follow the traditional pattern of fictional plot development. The book can, however, be viewed as having a protagonist and antagonist.
The narrator, main character, and protagonist of the book is Eliezer Wiesel (Elie). In the beginning, he is a young Jewish teenager living in Romania during Hitler's reign. A religious and studious young man, he possesses a strong sense of tradition and faith. Once he and his father are arrested by the Nazis and deported, his life becomes a struggle to survive. He is horribly tortured to the point that he loses faith in God.
The antagonists in the book are Hitler and his anti- Semitic Nazi regime, who persecute and kill Jews. Included amongst the antagonists are the Hungarian Policemen, the Gestapo, and the Nazi guards and doctors. Through much of the book, these characters torture Elie, until he is emotionally and physically shattered.
The climax occurs approximately halfway through the book, in the fifth section, when Elie loses his faith in God, which has been so important to him throughout life. He is so horrified over the torture that he has witnessed and endured, he questions if God exists and refuses to pray to Him on Rosh Hashanah. It is obvious that the antagonist has gotten the best of Elie Wiesel.
The book ends as a tragedy. Besides being horribly tortured himself, Elie also endures horrendous emotional torture. He loses his faith in God; he also loses his father, mother, and younger sister. Even though he survives the concentration camp and is rescued by Allied forces, Elie is very sick, both physically and emotionally. His sufferings have turned his soul into a living corpse, shadowed forever by the long, black night of evil he has endured.
SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The story begins in 1941, when Elie was twelve years old and living in Sighet with his family. In spite of his youth, the Jewish Elie was eager to study the Talmud and Cabbala. His father, however, thinks Elie is too young for such advanced subjects and refuses to find him a teacher. As a result, Elie turns to Moshe the Beadle for guidance.
One day Moshe is arrested by the Nazis. When he returns, he tells the villagers about how he has miraculously escaped from his torturers. He also tells them shocking stories about the atrocities committed against the Jews by Hitler's regime. When Elie and the other villagers do not believe his stories, thinking he has gone mad, Moshe weeps and tells his story again.
As time passes, the Nazis treat the Jews worse and worse. First they shift the Jewish people to live in ghettos; then they arrest them and transport them to Birkenau, the reception center that leads to Auschwitz. Elie, his parents, and his sisters are arrested by the Nazis and sent by cattle car to Birkenau. During the journey, Elie, his family, and the other Jews suffer from the inhuman conditions they must endure; they are also driven to distraction by the hysterical screams of Madame Schachter, who has hallucinations of fire and furnace.
When Elie and his family arrive at the concentration camp, they see flames rising out of an oven, which is actually a crematorium for the prisoners. They are repulsed by the stench of burning flesh. Then Elie and his father are separated from his mother and sisters. In the men's camp, Elie fights to protect his father and is repeatedly tortured himself. Gradually he begins to lose faith in God because of the atrocities he must witness and endure. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish Holy Day, Elie refuses to pray.
In the camp, a regular process of selection takes place to separate the physically fit prisoners from the unfit or sick ones. The abler men are given a chance to work and live, while the weaker ones are sent to the furnaces to be killed. Both Elie and his father survive the selection process; but they know there is no guarantee that they will survive the work and brutality. They often watch other prisoners as they are hanged for some little offense. The Nazis even hang an innocent thirteen-year-old boy with an angelic face.
In January 1945, Russian liberation forces draw near Buna, the camp where Elie and his father are staying. As a result, the Nazis evacuate the camp and force the prisoners to run through the snow toward Gleiwitz; they do not provide them any food or water during the trip. Elie and his father are amongst the prisoners forced to make the journey; it is a particularly difficult trip for Elie, for he has recently had an operation on his right foot, due to an infection. Elie struggles to keep up the pace, for the prisoners who fall behind are shot by the Nazis; many others fall down and are trampled to death by other prisoners.
Finally, the prisoners are loaded into roofless cattle-cars and taken to Buchenwald in central Germany. Many people die during the journey because of exposure and starvation, but Elie and his father manage to survive. At Buchenwald, however, Elie's father grows very ill, suffering from dysentery and malnutrition. He is also cruelly beaten on his skull. Elie tries his best to nurse his sick father back to health, getting very little sleep himself.
One night Elie unwillingly falls asleep due to his total exhaustion. When he wakes up, he finds that his father is not in his bed. He suspects that he has been taken to the crematorium, while he was still breathing, for the Nazis would judge the sick, old man as worthless. Elie is left with a life long repentance that he did not look after his sick father until the last moment.
At the end of the book, the Allied forces arrive at the concentration camp and liberate the prisoners. Even though he is freed, Elie is physically and emotionally devastated from his year of imprisonment. Three days after his release, he becomes seriously ill and must be hospitalized. When he has recovered enough to get out of bed, Elie looks in the mirror and thinks that he looks like a corpse. He knows he will always be haunted by the horror he has endured; the memory will forever be like a dark and scary night to him.
The major theme of the book is the horror that results from extreme prejudice. Because Hitler hated Jewish people, he caused them to be imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. The book records the horrendous experiences of Elie Wiesel, the Jewish author, during Hitler's reign of terror. He is arrested, imprisoned in a concentration camp, and tortured. Although he escapes death, he is totally devastated by the things he must endure and witness during the holocaust. The book is a recording of man's inhumanity to man at its worst.
Eliezer’s Struggle to Maintain
Faith in a Benevolent God
Eliezer’s struggle with his faith is a dominant conflict in Night. At the beginning of the work, his faith in God is absolute. When asked why he prays to God, he answers, “Why did I pray? . . . Why did I live? Why did I breathe?” His belief in an omnipotent, benevolent God is unconditional, and he cannot imagine living without faith in a divine power. But this faith is shaken by his experience during the Holocaust.
Initially, Eliezer’s faith is a product of his studies in Jewish mysticism, which teach him that God is everywhere in the world, that nothing exists without God, that in fact everything in the physical world is an “emanation,” or reflection, of the divine world. In other words, Eliezer has grown up believing that everything on Earth reflects God’s holiness and power. His faith is grounded in the idea that God is everywhere, all the time, that his divinity touches every aspect of his daily life. Since God is good, his studies teach him, and God is everywhere in the world, the world must therefore be good.
Eliezer’s faith in the goodness of the world is irreparably shaken, however, by the cruelty and evil he witnesses during the Holocaust. He cannot imagine that the concentration camps’ unbelievable, disgusting cruelty could possibly reflect divinity. He wonders how a benevolent God could be part of such depravity and how an omnipotent God could permit such cruelty to take place. His faith is equally shaken by the cruelty and selfishness he sees among the prisoners. If all the prisoners were to unite to oppose the cruel oppression of the Nazis, Eliezer believes, then maybe he could understand the Nazi menace as an evil aberration. He would then be able to maintain the belief that humankind is essentially good. But he sees that the Holocaust exposes the selfishness, evil, and cruelty of which everybody--not only the Nazis, but also his fellow prisoners, his fellow Jews, even himself—is capable. If the world is so disgusting and cruel, he feels, then God either must be disgusting and cruel or must not exist at all.
Though this realization seems to annihilate his faith, Eliezer manages to retain some of this faith throughout his experiences. At certain moments—during his first night in the camp and during the hanging of the pipel--Eliezer does grapple with his faith, but his struggle should not be confused with a complete abandonment of his faith. This struggle doesn’t diminish his belief in God; rather, it is essential to the existence of that belief. When Moshe the Beadle is asked why he prays, he replies, “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.” In other words, questioning is fundamental to the idea of faith in God. The Holocaust forces Eliezer to ask horrible questions about the nature of good and evil and about whether God exists. But the very fact that he asks these questions reflects his commitment to God.
Discussing his own experience, Wiesel once wrote, “My anger rises up within faith and not outside it.” Eliezer’s struggle reflects such a sentiment. Only in the lowest moments of his faith does he turn his back on God. Indeed, even when Eliezer says that he has given up on God completely, Wiesel’s constant use of religious metaphors undercuts what Eliezer says he believes. Eliezer even refers to biblical passages when he denies his faith. When he fears that he might abandon his father, he prays to God, and, after his father’s death, he expresses regret that there was no religious memorial. At the end of the book, even though he has been forever changed by his Holocaust experience, Eliezer emerges with his faith intact.
In one of Night’s most famous passages, Eliezer states, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.” It is the idea of God’s silence that he finds most troubling, as this description of an event at Buna reveals: as the Gestapo hangs a young boy, a man asks, “Where is God?” yet the only response is “[t]otal silence throughout the camp.” Eliezer and his companions are left to wonder how an all-knowing, all-powerful God can allow such horror and cruelty to occur, especially to such devout worshipers. The existence of this horror, and the lack of a divine response, forever shakes Eliezer’s faith in God.
It is worth noting that God’s silence during the hanging of the young boy recalls the story of the Akedah—the Binding of Isaac—found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 22). In the Akedah, God decides to test the faith of Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham does not doubt his God, and he ties Isaac to a sacrificial altar. He raises a knife to kill the boy, but at the last minute God sends an angel to save Isaac. The angel explains that God merely wanted to test Abraham’s faith and, of course, would never permit him to shed innocent blood. Unlike the God in Night, the God in the Akedah is not silent.
Night can be read as a reversal of the Akedah story: at the moment of a horrible sacrifice, God does not intervene to save innocent lives. There is no angel swooping down as masses burn in the crematorium, or as Eliezer’s father lies beaten and bloodied. Eliezer and the other prisoners call out for God, and their only response is silence; during his first night at Birkenau, Eliezer says, “The Eternal . . . was silent. What had I to thank Him for?” The lesson Eliezer learns is the opposite of the lesson taught in the Bible. The moral of the Akedah is that God demands sacrifice but is ultimately compassionate. During the Holocaust, however, Eliezer feels that God’s silence demonstrates the absence of divine compassion; as a result, he ultimately questions the very existence of God.
There is also a second type of silence operating throughout Night: the silence of the victims, and the lack of resistance to the Nazi threat. When his father is beaten at the end of his life, Eliezer remembers, “I did not move. I was afraid,” and he feels guilty about his inaction. It is implied throughout the text that silence and passivity are what allowed the Holocaust to continue. Wiesel’s writing of Night is itself an attempt to break the silence, to tell loudly and boldly of the atrocities of the Holocaust and, in this way, to try to prevent anything so horrible from ever happening again.
Inhumanity Toward Other Humans
Eliezer’s spiritual struggle owes to his shaken faith not only in God but in everything around him. After experiencing such cruelty, Eliezer can no longer make sense of his world. His disillusionment results from his painful experience with Nazi persecution, but also from the cruelty he sees fellow prisoners inflict on each other. Eliezer also becomes aware of the cruelty of which he himself is capable. Everything he experiences in the war shows him how horribly people can treat one another—a revelation that troubles him deeply.
The first insensible cruelty Eliezer experiences is that of the Nazis. Yet, when the Nazis first appear, they do not seem monstrous in any way. Eliezer recounts, “[O]ur first impressions of the Germans were most reassuring. . . . Their attitude toward their hosts was distant, but polite.” So many aspects of the Holocaust are incomprehensible, but perhaps the most difficult to understand is how human beings could so callously slaughter millions of innocent victims. Wiesel highlights this incomprehensible tragedy by pulling the Nazis into focus first as human beings, and then, as the memoir shifts to the concentration camps, showing the brutal atrocities that they committed.
Furthermore, Night demonstrates that cruelty breeds cruelty. Instead of comforting each other in times of difficulty, the prisoners respond to their circumstances by turning against one another. Near the end of the work, a Kapo says to Eliezer, “Here, every man has to fight for himself and not think of anyone else. . . . Here, there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends. Everyone lives and dies for himself alone.” It is significant that a Kapo makes this remark to the narrator, because Kapos were themselves prisoners placed in charge of other prisoners. They enjoyed a relatively better (though still horrendous) quality of life in the camp, but they aided the Nazi mission and often behaved cruelly toward prisoners in their charge. At the beginning of the fifth section, Eliezer refers to them as “functionaries of death.” The Kapos’ position symbolizes the way the Holocaust’s cruelty bred cruelty in its victims, turning people against each other, as self-preservation became the highest virtue.
The Importance of Father-Son Bonds
Eliezer is disgusted with the horrific selfishness he sees around him, especially when it involves the rupture of familial bonds. On three occasions, he mentions sons horribly mistreating fathers: in his brief discussion of the pipel who abused his father; his terrible conclusion about the motives of Rabbi Eliahou’s son; and his narration of the fight for food that he witnesses on the train to Buchenwald, in which a son beats his father to death. All of these moments of cruelty are provoked by the conditions the prisoners are forced to endure. In order to save themselves, these sons sacrifice their fathers.
Traces of the Akedah story (see Silence, above) run through the memoir, particularly in the guilt and sadness that Eliezer feels after his father’s death. Despite the love and care he has shown his father, Eliezer feels that he has somehow sacrificed his father for his own safety. This sacrifice is the inverse of the Akedah, in which a father (Abraham) is willing to sacrifice his son (Isaac). Night’s reversal of this example signifies the way the Holocaust has turned Eliezer’s entire world upside down.
Eliezer’s descriptions of his behavior toward his father seem to invalidate his guilty feelings. He depends on his father for support, and his love for his father allows him to endure. During the long run to Gleiwitz, he says, “My father’s presence was the only thing that stopped me [from allowing myself to die]. . . . I had no right to let myself die. What would he do without me? I was his only support.” Their relationship demonstrates that Eliezer’s love and solidarity are stronger forces of survival than his instinct for self-preservation.
NIGHT TEST STUDY GUIDE CONT.
The importance of religious faith is a minor theme of the book. From an early age, Elie Wiesel has a tremendous love for religion, wanting to study the Cabbala and Talmud. When he is first imprisoned, it is his faith that helps him survive. Like most of the Jews, he prays regularly for an end to the persecution and strength to survive. His faith, however, is shaken when he sees the depth of the atrocities committed against his fellow Jews. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, he finds that he cannot even pray, questioning if God exists amongst such cruelty to mankind. In the end, his faith returns and helps him deal with his experiences.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Judaism is more than simply a religion; it is an entire culture that has, for most of its almost 6,000-year existence, been a dispersed culture, a nation without a country, a people without a home. As a result, memory and tradition play a significant role in Jewish life. In the absence of any geographic continuity, Judaism relies on customs, observances, and traditions, passed down from generation to generation, as the markers and bearers of cultural identity. Hitler and the Nazis wanted not only to destroy the Jewish people but also to humiliate them and eradicate all vestiges of Judaism. As Eliezer relates in Night, the Germans desecrated Jewish temples, forced Jews to break dietary laws, and deliberately shaved their heads and tattooed them in violation of Jewish Scripture. The Nazi genocide was an attempt to wipe out an entire people, including all sense of national and cultural unity.
Conversation and storytelling have always been important elements of Jewish folk tradition, and Chlomo’s storytelling symbolizes Jewish culture as a whole. His story is interrupted by the arrival of the Nazis, just as the Holocaust attempted to interrupt Jewish history as a whole. Throughout the book, Eliezer clings to tradition, even after his faith has apparently been lost, because it serves as an important link to life outside the Holocaust, beyond the terror and oppression he is experiencing. He struggles with the question of fasting on Yom Kippur. He expresses regret when he forgets to say Kaddish (a mourner’s prayer) for his deceased friend Akiba Drumer, not because he feels that he has forsaken an obligation to God, but because he feels that he has forsaken his commitment to his fellow Jews and fellow prisoners.
During the first sections of Night, there are frequent mentions of religion and religious observance. Eliezer begins his story mentioning the Talmud and his Jewish studies and prayer rituals. He is upset that the Nazis desecrate the Sabbath and his synagogue. By the end of Night, however, mentions of Jewish observance have almost vanished from the text. Most striking, Eliezer does not mention the Kaddish by name after his father’s death, and says only that “[t]here were no prayers at his grave. No candles were lit in his memory.” By specifically avoiding Jewish terminology, Eliezer implies that religious observance has ceased to be a part of his life. Eliezer’s feelings about this loss are ambiguous: he has claimed that he has lost all faith in God, yet there is clearly regret and sadness in his tone when he discusses the lack of a religious memorial for his father.
Although Eliezer’s explicit mentions of religion vanish, religious metaphor holds Night’s entire narrative structure together. As noted above, the Akedah is a foundational metaphor for the work. Throughout the memoir, furthermore, Wiesel indirectly refers to biblical passages (Psalm 150, for example, when Eliezer discusses his loss of faith) and Jewish tradition (the Nazis’ selections on Yom Kippur of which prisoners will die—a cruel version of the Jewish belief that God selects who will live and who will die during the Days of Awe). Though Eliezer claims that religion and faith are no longer part of his life, both nevertheless form a tacit foundation for his entire story.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Fire appears throughout Night as a symbol of the Nazis’ cruel power. On the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Madame Schächter receives a vision of fire that serves as a premonition of the horror to come. Eliezer also sees the Nazis burning babies in a ditch. Most important, fire is the agent of destruction in the crematoria, where many meet their death at the hands of the Nazis.
The role of fire as a Nazi weapon reverses the role fire plays in the Bible and Jewish tradition. In the Bible, fire is associated with God and divine wrath. God appears to Moses as a burning bush, and vengeful angels wield flaming swords. In postbiblical literature, flame also is a force of divine retribution. In Gehenna—the Jewish version of Hell—the wicked are punished by fire. But in Night, it is the wicked who wield the power of fire, using it to punish the innocent. Such a reversal demonstrates how the experience of the Holocaust has upset Eliezer’s entire concept of the universe, especially his belief in a benevolent, or even just, God.
The Bible begins with God’s creation of the earth. When God first begins his creation, the earth is “without form, and void; and darkness [is] upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2, King James Version). God’s first act is to create light and dispel this darkness. Darkness and night therefore symbolize a world without God’s presence. In Night, Wiesel exploits this allusion. Night always occurs when suffering is worst, and its presence reflects Eliezer’s belief that he lives in a world without God. The first time Eliezer mentions that “[n]ight fell” is when his father is interrupted while telling stories and informed about the deportation of Jews. Similarly, it is night when Eliezer first arrives at Birkenau/Auschwitz, and it is night—specifically “pitch darkness”—when the prisoners begin their horrible run from Buna.
Throughout the book, the mood is intensely gloomy to the point of total tragedy. The journeys on the cattle wagons are dehumanizing, and life at the concentration camps is hideous. The prisoners are starved, tortured, and often murdered. They never know if they will be alive the next day or the next hour. Fear is ever present. Much of the book takes place in winter, which makes the mood even gloomier. Even the title of the book, Night, suggests darkness and emptiness.
Author · Elie Wiesel
Genre · World War II and Holocaust autobiography
Time and Place Written · Mid-1950s, Paris. Wiesel began writing after a ten-year self-imposed vow of silence about the Holocaust.
Narrator · Eliezer (a slightly fictionalized version of Elie Wiesel)
Point of View · Eliezer speaks in the first person and always relates the autobiographical events from his perspective.
Tone · Eliezer’s perspective is limited to his own experience, and the tone of Night is therefore intensely personal, subjective, and intimate. Night is not meant to be an all-encompassing discourse on the experience of the Holocaust; instead, it depicts the extraordinarily personal and painful experiences of a single victim.
Setting (time) · 1941–1945, during World War II
Settings (place) · Eliezer’s story begins in Sighet, Transylvania (now part of Romania; during Wiesel’s childhood, part of Hungary). The book then follows his journey through several concentration camps in Europe: Auschwitz/Birkenau (in a part of modern-day Poland that had been annexed by Germany in 1939), Buna (a camp that was part of the Auschwitz complex), Gleiwitz (also in Poland but annexed by Germany), and Buchenwald (Germany).
Protagonist · Eliezer
Major Conflict · Eliezer’s struggles with Nazi persecution, and with his own faith in God and in humanity
Rising Action · Eliezer’s journey through the various concentration camps and the subsequent deterioration of his father and himself
Climax · The death of Eliezer’s father
Falling Action · The liberation of the concentration camps, the time spent in silence between Eliezer’s liberation and Elie Wiesel’s decision to write about his experience, referred to in the memoir when Eliezer jumps ahead to events that happened after the Holocaust
Foreshadowing · Night does not operate like a novel, using foreshadowing to hint at surprises to come. The pall of tragedy hangs over the entire novel, however. Even as early as the work’s dedication, “In memory of my parents and my little sister, Tzipora,” Wiesel makes it evident that Eliezer will be the only significant character in the book who survives the war. As readers, we are not surprised by their inevitable deaths; instead, Wiesel’s narrative shocks and stuns us with the details of the cruelty that the prisoners experience.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Elie Wiesel is probably the best known author of Jewish holocaust literature. He was born in Sighet, Romania on September 30, 1928. Named Eliezer, he was the third of four children of Shlomo Wiesel, a respected grocer, and his wife, Sarah. As a child, Elie was serious and scholarly. Fascinated with the Jewish religion, he studied the Cabbala and the Talmud.
Elie was twelve years old when the German Nazi army occupied Sighet in 1941. The soldiers immediately began to close down Jewish shops, offices, and synagogues. Soon news spread of Jewish people being arrested and sent to concentration camps. In 1944, Elie, his father, his mother, and his older sisters were arrested and deported to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland. There Elie was tattooed with the number A-7713 and subjected to torture and witnessed the horrible deaths of many of his fellow Jews. After a few months, he and his father were transferred to Buna and then Buchenwald; during the journey to Buchenwald, his father grew gravely ill and died shortly after his arrival. When the Allied forces finally arrived to free the prisoners from Buchenwald in April of 1945, Elie was a shattered man, both physically and emotionally and had to be hospitalized.
After his recovery, Elie became a newspaper correspondent for a Yiddish journal, traveling throughout Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. He was also reunited with his two older sisters, Hilda and Bea, who had also survived the concentration camp. In 1947, he entered the Sorbonne University in Paris, studying literature and philosophy. To support himself, he continued his work as a correspondent and also tutored part time and served as the director of a choir. He also began to write, publishing various autobiographical essays, non-fiction articles, and short pieces of fiction.
In 1956, Wiesel moved to the United States and devoted himself full-time to his writing career and to working for humanitarian causes. With the encouragement of Francois Mauriac, a French writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wiesel decided to write about the holocaust. His first book on the subject, entitled Night, was written in Yiddish and published in 1958; it was dedicated to his parents and his younger sister, who did not survive the war. In 1960, the book was translated into English and published in America. Other non-fiction works include:
The Accident (1962)
The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry
Legends of Our Time (1968)
One Generation After (1970)
Souls of Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters
Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends (1976)
A Jew Today (1978) (1966) (1972)
Dimensions of the Holocaust (1978)
The Testament (1981)
Five Biblical Portraits (1981)
Job, or God in the Tempest (1986)
The Six Days of Destruction (1989)
From the Kingdom of Memory (1990)
and All Rivers Run to the Sea (1995), which is the first volume of his autobiography.
Wiesel also published several works of fiction. These include:
The Town beyond the Wall (1964)
The Gates of the Forest (1966)
A Beggar in Jerusalem (1970)
The Oath (1973)
The Fifth Son (1985)
The Forgotten (1992).
In 1963, Wiesel became an American citizen and still resides in New York. In April of 1968, he married Marion Rose, a writer, editor, and survivor of the holocaust; they had one son, Shlomo Elisha, born in 1972. From 1980 - 1986, he served as chairman of the U.S. President's Commission on the Holocaust. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST
The holocaust, one of the darkest periods in history, really began in January of 1933 when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Believing that Aryans were superior to all others, he wanted to purge Germany of inferior races, especially the Jews. By March, Hitler had established himself as Dictator, had established his police organization known as the Gestapo, had withdrawn Germany from the League of Nations, and had established the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. During the spring and summer, persecution of the Jews intensified, and all Jewish government workers and university professors were fired. By July, Hitler had outlawed freedom of the press, labor unions, and all political parties except for the Nazis. In 1934, Hitler gave himself the title of Fuehrer and ordered the Gestapo to shoot or kill anyone who opposed his rule. In 1935, Hitler revoked German citizenship for all Jews and outlawed their marriage to Gentiles. In 1936, Hitler sent Nazi troops to occupy the Rhineland, next to France; it was in direct opposition to the Treaty of Versailles. He also allied himself with Italy and Japan. In 1938, Hitler seized Austria.
Throughout the 1930s, the persecution of the Jews continued. Jewish businesses were seized, synagogues were closed, property was stolen, children were banned from attending public schools, and families were forced from their homes. The Jews were usually made to move into ghetto areas. With the opening of Buchenwald in the summer of 1937, the arrests of Jews increased. By the start of 1939, Hitler had announced that his intention was to annihilate the Jewish race. He also continued his aggressive pursuit of more territory, capturing Czechoslovakia. Then in September of 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, causing the start of World War II. By the end of the year, he was operating six death camps, where large numbers of Jews and Communists were being tortured and murdered.
In 1940, Hitler captured Norway, Denmark, and France. In April, he also opened Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland; two and a half million prisoners would eventually be executed or die there. During the remainder of the first year of the war, Hitler opened another fifteen camps, for a total of twenty-two. Before the end of the war in 1945, more than eight million prisoners would be sent to the camps, and six million Jews would be murdered, both inside and outside the camps. At first the Nazis exterminated the Jewish people by firing squad, but later decided it was not an efficient method of death. They then developed special gas chambers to kill large groups of victims at the same time and crematoriums to burn both living and dead prisoners.
In 1941 (the year when the book began and Wiesel was twelve), the mass murder of Jews began in earnest; 170 were massacred in Bucharest and 33,000 at Babi Yar. It was also the year that Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered the war. By 1942, the widespread arrest and imprisonment of Jews was occurring, (including the arrest of Moshe the Beadle). Two years later, in 1944, all the Jews in Sighet, Romania, (including the Wiesel family), were sent to concentration camps; Elie and his father were transferred from Auschwitz to Buna. The Allied army also freed Paris.
By January of 1945, the Russian army was moving on the Nazis from the East, and the Allied forces were moving from the West. Fearing that the prisoners at Buna would be liberated, the Nazis forced them to walk through the snow to Gleiwitz and then travel in open cattle cars to Buchenwald. By February, Allied troops had reached the Rhine River, and Russian troops had liberated Auschwitz. In April, Allied forces reached Dachau and Buchenwald and freed the prisoners, including Elie Wiesel. In May, Germany surrendered to the Allies, and the war and the holocaust were finally over.
Important Quotations Explained
1. Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
Explanation for Quotation 1
This passage, from Night’s third section, occurs just after Eliezer and his father realize they have survived the first selection at Birkenau. It is perhaps Night’s most famous passage, notable because it is one of the few moments in the memoir where Eliezer breaks out of the continuous narrative stream with which he tells his tale. As he reflects upon his horrendous first night in the concentration camp and its lasting effect on his life, Wiesel introduces the theme of Eliezer’s spiritual crisis and his loss of faith in God.
In its form, this passage resembles two significant pieces of literature: Psalm 150, from the Bible, and French author Emile Zola’s 1898 essay “J’accuse.” Psalm 150, the final prayer in the book of Psalms, is an ecstatic celebration of God. Each line begins, “Hallelujah,” or “Praise God.” Here, Wiesel constructs an inverse version of that psalm, beginning each line with a negation—“Never”—that replaces the affirmative “Hallelujah” of the original. Whereas Psalm 150 praises God, this passage questions him. As such, both the form and content of this passage reflect the inversion of Eliezer’s faith and the morality of the world around him. Everything he once believed has been turned upside down, in the same way that this passage’s words invert both the form and content of Psalm 150.
Zola’s essay “J’accuse” was a response to the Dreyfus Affair, an incident in which a Jewish army officer was unjustly convicted of treason, a judgment at least partially motivated by anti-Semitism. Zola responded by publishing an open letter in the Paris newspaper L’Aurore, denouncing the authorities who had covered up the injustice and perpetuated the persecution. Zola heightened the aggressive tone of the letter by repeatedly stressing the refrain “J’accuse” (“I accuse”).
The similarities between Wiesel’s passage and Zola’s—the French words of the refrain, the anti-Semitic context, and the defiant tone—invite comparison between the two texts. Zola’s piece was an impassioned accusation that decried injustice and anti-Semitism; Wiesel’s passage is also an impassioned polemic, but its target is God Himself. Zola’s “j’accuse” is directed at corrupt officials who have betrayed an innocent Jew; here, Eliezer’s “jamais” (“never”) is directed toward God. Carrying the comparison even further, Eliezer’s statement depicts God as a corrupt official betraying the Jews. This is a shockingly bold statement for a Jewish boy to make and reflects the profound way in which his faith has been shaken. Furthermore, the fact that Zola’s transitive verb (“I accuse”) has been replaced by an objectless adverb (“never”) reflects the prisoners’ powerlessness to remedy their situation. Although Wiesel’s passage is directed toward God, it is not directed at any specific being; since the prisoners are powerless to strike back, their anger cannot take the form of a direct confrontation.
Eliezer claims that his faith is utterly destroyed, yet at the same time says that he will never forget these things even if he “live[s] as long as God Himself.” After completely denying the existence of God, he refers to God’s existence in the final line. As mentioned before, Wiesel wrote elsewhere, “My anger rises up within faith and not outside it.” Eliezer reflects this position, which is particularly visible throughout this passage. Despite saying he has lost all faith, it is clear that Eliezer is actually struggling with his faith and his God. Just as he is never able to forget the horror of “that night,” he is never able to reject completely his heritage and his religion.
2.“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked. ..For more than half an hour [the child in the noose] stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows. . . .”
Explanation for Quotation 2
This passage occurs at the end of the fourth section, as Eliezer witnesses the agonizingly slow death of the Dutch Oberkapo’s pipel, a young boy hanged for collaborating against the Nazis. This horrible moment signifies the low point of Eliezer’s faith in God. The death of the child also symbolizes the death of Eliezer’s own childhood and innocence. The suffering Eliezer sees and experiences during the Holocaust transforms his entire worldview. Before the war, he cannot imagine questioning his God. When asked by Moshe the Beadle why he prays, Eliezer replies, “Why did I pray? What a strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?” Observance and belief were unquestioned parts of his core sense of identity, so once his faith is irreparably shaken, he becomes a completely different person. Among other things, Night is a perverse coming-of-age story, in which Eliezer’s innocence is cruelly stripped from him.
3. We were masters of nature, masters of the world. We had forgotten everything—death, fatigue, our natural needs. Stronger than cold or hunger, stronger than the shots and the desire to die, condemned and wandering, mere numbers, we were the only men on earth. At last, the morning star appeared in the gray sky. A trail of indeterminate light showed on the horizon. We were exhausted. We were without strength, without illusions.
Explanation for Quotation 3
This passage occurs in the sixth section of the book, toward the end of the prisoners’ horrible run from Buna. It succinctly describes the prisoners’ godless worldview, which holds survival to be the highest principle and all other morality to be meaningless. In Jewish prayer, God is often referred to as “Master of the Universe.” At this point, the prisoners have replaced God in that role; they themselves are the masters of nature and the world. Eliezer’s experiences have instilled in him the despairing sense that he is alone in the world, a “mere number,” responsible only for his own survival.
By omitting a conjunction between “without strength” and “without illusions” in the last sentence, Wiesel makes the relationship between the two concepts ambiguous. It is unclear whether the ideas are complementary (“We were without strength because we were without illusions”) or unrelated (“We were without strength, and also we were without illusions”). Using the former interpretation, the sentence implies that illusion—perhaps the illusion of faith—can give one strength. As we see when he discusses the death of Akiba Drumer, Eliezer acknowledges that faith gives a person a sense of being and a reason to struggle. By this point in his experience, he is deeply cynical about faith; for him, it is a mere illusion, a deluded belief in an omnipotent creator who doesn’t exist. Along similar lines, the phrase “condemned and wandering” references the entire history of Jewish suffering, a history defined by exile and exclusion. Despite his professed lack of faith, Eliezer is approaching his struggle from within the context of Judaism, not from outside it.
4. [Rabbi Eliahou’s son] had felt that his father was growing weak, he had believed that the end was near and had sought this separation in order to get rid of the burden, to free himself from an encumbrance which could lessen his own chances of survival.
I had done well to forget that. And I was glad that Rabbi Eliahou should continue to look for his beloved son.
And, in spite of myself, a prayer rose in my heart, to that God in whom I no longer believed.
My God, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done.
Explanation for Quotation 4
This passage is found in the sixth section, during the respite from the march to Gleiwitz. First and most obviously, it emphasizes the centrality of the father-son relationship in Eliezer’s life. As Eliezer expresses when discussing Akiba Drumer’s despair, every victim of the Holocaust needed a reason to struggle, a reason to want to survive. For many, that reason was faith in God and the ultimate goodness of mankind. But since Eliezer has lost that faith, his relationship with his father is what keeps him struggling.
Eliezer’s experience has taught him that the Nazis’ cruelty distorts one’s perspective and engenders cruelty among the prisoners. Self-preservation becomes the highest virtue in the world of the Holocaust and leads prisoners to commit horrendous crimes against one another. Eliezer fears that this loss of perspective will happen to him, that he will lose control over himself and turn against his father. In the concentration camps, Eliezer has learned that any human being, even himself, is capable of unimaginable cruelty.
Eliezer’s prayer to God reflects the incomplete nature of his loss of faith. Because Eliezer senses his potential for weakness, he appeals to a greater power for help. He says he no longer believes in God, but he nevertheless turns to God when he doubts his ability to control himself. Eliezer no longer considers himself “master of nature, master of the world,” as he did in the previous passage. Instead, he needs help controlling his base instincts.
5. One day I was able to get up, after gathering all my strength. I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto.
From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me.
The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.
Explanation for Quotation 5
This is the final passage of Night, Eliezer’s final statement about the effect the Holocaust has had on him. As such, it reinforces the book’s deliberately limited perspective. Night does not pretend to be a comprehensive survey of World War II experiences, nor does it try to explore the general experience of Jews in concentration camps. Instead, it focuses on one specific story—Eliezer’s—to give the reader a detailed, personal account of suffering in the Holocaust. From a more traditional perspective, the ending feels incomplete. A historian or biographer would not be satisfied with this conclusion and would want to know what happened afterward—how Eliezer reunited with his family, what he did after the war, and so on. Night deliberately manipulates narrative conventions, ending where it does because it is meant to offer an intimate portrayal of Eliezer’s wartime experiences, particularly of the cruelty and suffering he experiences in the concentration camps. Other material would distract from the intensity of the experience Wiesel is trying to convey.
Eliezer implies that even though he has survived the war physically, he is essentially dead, his soul killed by the suffering he witnessed and endured. Yet, when Eliezer says, “the look in his eyes, as he stared into mine,” he implies a separation between himself and the corpse. His language, too, indicates a fundamental separation between his sense of self and his identity as a Holocaust victim—as if he has become two distinct beings. The corpse-image reminds him how much he has suffered and how much of himself—his faith in God, his innocence, his faith in mankind, his father, his mother, his sister—has been killed in the camps. At the same time, he manages to separate himself from this empty shell. The image of the corpse will always stay with him, but he has found a sense of identity that will endure beyond the Holocaust. As dark as this passage is, its message is partially hopeful. Eliezer survives beyond the horrible suffering he endured by separating himself from it, casting it aside so he can remember, but not continue to feel, the horror.
Illustration of one scene from the chapter:
Written response to chapter:
Illustration of one scene from the chapter:
Written response to chapter:
Project - 24 Points - Due Wednesday 2/16/2011
Lit. Book Pg 687 Writing - A Modern Monster
WRITE a one page descriptive story (Please Type. No. 12 Font Arial) with vivid imagery. Compose a modern hero story in which the hero must destroy a monster. Decide what your hero and monster will look like, smell like, feel like, sound like, etc. What treasure trove will your monster guard?
Also include a a picture of your monster and hero. You can use the following web sites to help you create your picture.
Hero Machine lets you create the hero of your dreams, whether you want to be a Greek God or a Super Hero.
You can SAVEyour characters design specs and RELOAD them back into the Hero Machine at a later time. You can even PRINTout you designs. Once you are done designing, you can name your character, save and print your design.