Night is narrated by Eliezer, a Jewish teenager who lives, at the book’s opening, in his hometown of Sighet in Hungarian Transylvania. Elizer studies Torah and the Cabbala, Jewish mysticism. His instruction is cut short, however, when his teacher, Moshe the Beadle, is deported. In a few months, Moshe returns, telling a horrifying tale. The Gestapo (German secret police) took charge of his train, led everybody into the woods, and systematically butchered them. Nobody believes Moshe, who is taken for a lunatic.
In the spring of 1944, the Nazis occupy Hungary. Not long afterward, after a series of increasingly repressive measures are passed, the Jews of Eliezer’s town are forced into small ghettos within Sighet. Soon after, they are herded onto cattle cars, and a nightmarish journey ensues. After days and nights crammed into the car, exhausted and near starvation, the passengers arrive at Birkenau, the gateway to Auschwitz.
On Eliezer’s arrival in Birkenau, he and his father are separated from his mother and sisters, whom they never see again. In the first of many “selections” that Eliezer describes in the memoir, the Jews are evaluated to determine whether they should be killed immediately or put to work. Eliezer and his father seem to pass the evaluation, but before they are brought to the prisoners’ barracks, they stumble upon the open-pit furnaces where the Nazis are burning babies by the truckload.
... was the deportation of all foreign Jews, including Eliezer's teacher, Moshe the Beadle. Moshe soon comes back to warn Sighet, that German ... optimism rejects her offer. At the first concentration camp Birkenau, Eliezer is separated from his mother and sister, but stays with ... of the lower intestinal tract and also causes extreme thirstiness. Eliezer tries to get his father medical attention, but the ...
The Jewish arrivals are stripped, shaved, disinfected, and treated with almost unimaginable cruelty. Eventually, their captors march them from Birkenau to the main camp, Auschwitz. They eventually arrive in Buna, a work camp where Eliezer is put to work in an electrical-fittings factory. Under slave-labor conditions, severely malnourished and decimated by the frequent “selections,” the Jews take solace in caring for each other, in religion, and in Zionism. In the camp, they are subject to unimaginable cruelty, including beatings and repeated humiliations. A vicious foreman forces Eliezer to give him his gold tooth, which is pried out of his mouth with a rusty spoon.
The prisoners are forced to watch the hanging of fellow prisoners in the camp courtyard. On one occasion, the Gestapo (Nazi secret police) even hang a small child who had been associated with some rebels within Buna. Because of the horrific conditions of the camps, and the ever-present danger of death, many of the prisoners themselves begin to slide into cruelty, concerned only with personal survival. Sons begin to abandon and abuse their fathers. Eliezer himself begins to lose his humanity and his faith, both in God and the people around him.
After months in the camp, Eliezer—poorly clothed in the freezing cold—undergoes an operation for a foot injury. While he is in the infirmary, however, the Nazis decide to evacuate the camp because the Russians are advancing and are on the verge of liberating Buna. In the middle of a snowstorm, the prisoners begin a death march, forced to run for more than fifty miles to the Gleiwitz concentration camp. Many die of exposure and exhaustion. At Gleiwitz, the prisoners are herded into cattle cars once again. They begin another deadly journey: 100 Jews board the car, but only twelve remain alive by trip’s end at the concentration camp Buchenwald. Throughout the ordeal, Eliezer and his father have helped each other survive through mutual support and concern, but in Buchenwald, Eliezer’s father dies of dysentery and physical abuse. Eliezer survives, an empty shell of a man until April 11th, 1945, when the American army liberates the camp.
Eliezer’s struggle with his faith is a dominant conflict in Night. At the beginning of the book, 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.
... a half weeks (Feldman 278-279). The prisoners of this camp were treated very poorly, and their only ... But the train had stopped and all these prisoners were captured by the SS. Some were immediately ... only experiment on twins though, he would inject prisoners with lethal chemicals just to see how they ... crime was, for the most part, being of the Jewish faith ...
Initially, Eliezer’s faith is a product of his studies in Jewish mysticism, which teach that God is everywhere in the world, that nothing exists without God, that in fact everything in the material world is a reflection—or “emanation”—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: God is good, and God is everywhere in the world, ergo the world is good.
Eliezer’s faith is irreparably shaken by the cruelty and evil he witnesses in during the Holocaust. He can’t 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 displayed among the prisoners. If all the prisoners united together to oppose the cruel oppression of the Nazis, then maybe Eliezer could have viewed the Nazi threat as an evil aberration, and maintained the belief that mankind 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 (see below, “Cruelty/Man’s Inhumanity To Man.”).
If the world is so disgusting and cruel, he believes, than God must either be disgusting and cruel, or must not exist at all.
Though this realization seems to utterly destroy Eliezer’s faith, it is incorrect to say that by the end of Night Eliezer has lost all faith. At certain moments—during his first night in the camp and during the hanging of the pipel—Eliezer indeed grapples with his faith, but his struggle with his faith should not be confused with a complete relinquishing of his faith. In fact, Eliezer’s struggle with faith is essential, not opposed, to his belief in God. 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 some horrible questions about the nature of good and evil in the universe, and about whether God exists, but the very fact that he asks the questions reflects his commitment to God and to religious belief.
... the absence of an individual presence and personal connection to God through faith, how could anyone expect to be capable or willing ... entering or exiting this discussion within. The unwavering faith in the fact that God is our Lord and conqueror of all evil ... creation and existence is purposed through God, is the fabric of this writing. The fact that faith is an ingredient of a ...
Discussing his own experience, Elie Wiesel once wrote, “My anger rises up within faith and not outside it,” and Eliezer’s struggle reflects such a sentiment. Only in the lowest moments of his faith does he turn his back on God, but even when he says that he has given up on God completely, Wiesel’s constant use of religious metaphors belies Eliezer’s true beliefs. He even refers to Biblical passages when he denies his faith (see “Important Quotations Explained”).
When he fears that he will 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 story, Eliezer has retained his faith, though it has forever been changed by his Holocaust experience.
In Night’s most famous passage, Eliezer states, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.” It is God’s silence that he finds most troubling, as his relation of an event at Buna reveals. As the Gestapo hangs a young boy, a man asks, “Where is God?”; the only response is “[t]otal silence throughout the camp.” How, Eliezer and other victims wonder, can an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God allow such horror and cruelty to occur, especially to such devout worshippers? The presence of such 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 twenty-two).
In this story, God decides to test the faith of Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham does not doubt his God, and 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 of the Holocaust, God in the Akedah is not silent; he interrupts Abraham and prevents an atrocity.
... murdered, and that goes for his God too. His toy was faith, the God that lay inside him where he could ... fervent and dedicated Jew. Early in the pages of Night, Wiesel recalls a question that his father had asked ... Wiesel’s rendition of his experiences during the Holocaust, Night, portrays many themes throughout the entirety of its pages, ... The Vicissitude of Faith in Night When we’re young and we have a ...
Night can be read as a reversal of the Akedah story. It is a story about a horrible sacrifice that God does not interrupt at the last minute.
There is no angel swooping down as masses burn in the crematorium, or as Eliezer’s father lies beaten and bloodied. In the Akedah, when God is looking for Abraham, He calls out for him, and Abraham replies with the direct and forceful statement, “Here I am.” In another reversal, in Night 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?” And finally, 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, Eliezer feels that God’s silence demonstrates the absence of Divine compassion and 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. Elie Wiesel’s writing of the book itself is an attempt to break a silence, to loudly and boldly tell of the atrocities of the Holocaust and, in this way, to try to prevent it from ever happening again.
As discussed above, Night focuses extensively on Eliezer’s struggle with his faith. Eliezer discusses this struggle in terms of his loss of faith in God, but really it is a loss of faith in everything around him. After experiencing such horror and cruelty in the world, the world no longer makes sense to Eliezer. This disillusionment is the result of his painful experience with Nazi persecution, but it is also the result of the cruelty he sees fellow prisoners inflict upon each other. Eliezer even becomes aware of the cruelty of which he himself is capable. His entire experience in the war shows him how profanely horribly people can treat one another—a revelation that troubles him deeply.
... prisoners watched the child die, Eliezer hear a voice asking: "Where is God now? I heard a voice ... Adolf Hitler and his anti-Semitic Nazi regime. In the historical fiction Night, the author Elie Wiesel, portrays ... for them:' Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life ... the same blindness that produced the darkness of Night. Yet failure to use the Holocaust to call ...
The first insensible cruelty Eliezer experiences is the cruelty 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 insensible tragedy by pulling the Nazis into focus first as human beings, and then, as the memoir shifts to the concentration camps, showing the atrocities they committed.
Furthermore, Night demonstrates that cruelty breeds cruelty. Instead of comforting each other in their times of difficulty, the prisoners respond to their circumstances by turning against one another. Towards the end of the book, 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 says this 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 abetted the Nazi mission and often behaved cruelly to the 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. When Eliezer’s father dies, Eliezer is deeply troubled at the sense of relief he feels. Cruelty is everywhere in Night, and Eliezer’s experience of that cruelty profoundly shakes his faith in mankind and the world around him.