Dawn Summary

Extended Summary

Elie Wiesel’s Dawn is a novel set in British controlled Palestine after the Second World War. Elisha is an eighteen-year-old survivor of Buchenwald. Since traveling to Palestine, Elisha has joined a terrorist group to rid Palestine of the English. Now, Elisha has been commanded to murder John Dawson, an Englishman, as retribution for the death of David ben Moshe, another member in the Movement. He has until dawn to carry out his orders.

The novel begins on a hot autumn evening in Palestine, and Elisha dwells on his orders to kill a man that he has never seen. Elisha looks out the window at the growing darkness, listening as a child cries nearby. Gad encourages him to put his doubts out of mind, assuring him that it is war, but Elisha cannot do it. He instead recalls a beggar he met before the Holocaust—when his parents were still alive and when God was still in their town—that taught him to distinguish night from day. At the time, he had remembered that the prophet Elijah was said to sometimes dress as a beggar and so Elisha took the beggar from the synagogue to his home. Along the way, the beggar told him to look into a window. If he saw a face, he could be sure that night had come since night does have a face. Night comes suddenly, and Elisha looks into the window and sees his own face in the darkness.

It was Gad that brought Elisha’s orders from the Old Man just an hour before. Elisha recalls that a month ago, David ben Moshe was wounded during a terrorist action and subsequently captured. The Movement spread word through posters and underground radio broadcasts that David ben Moshe was not to be harmed. The Movement had lost enough members to the British, and so the Old Man had decided that they would match every murder of one of their own with the murder of a British soldier. The military tribunal nevertheless sentenced David ben Moshe to death, and so the Movement began to watch the English soldiers. When it became clear that John Dawson took solitary walks every evening, the Movement abducted him.

The High Commission of Palestine responded quickly. They proclaimed a forty-eight-hour curfew, they searched houses, and they declared that the population would be held responsible for Dawson’s death. However, Dawson remained hidden, while the people wondered if the British were capable of carrying out a pogrom. World opinion, they told each other, would surely not allow it; then again, world opinion did not stop Hitler. Still, Elisha knows that Zionist leaders contacted the Old Man, who explained that they could not give in to the English. Only violence would be understood. World opinion did put pressure on the English, but the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs was confident that the Jews would not follow through on their threat. Besides, the Crown’s reputation was at stake: they could not allow a group of terrorists to order them about. So, the Old Man sent his orders to Elisha through Gad, who once again assures Elisha that it is war and that he should not torture himself with what he is about to do.

Elisha recalls when he met Gad. The French offered him asylum, and so he left Bechenwald for Paris. He did not want to return home, but he did want to study philosophy to answer the questions he had about what happened to him in the camps. At the time, Elisha had thought Gad a Meshulah, fate’s mysterious messenger. He asked for Elisha’s future and explained that he wanted to turn it into an outcry, into hope, and, finally, into triumph. He explained that they would create a free Israel in Palestine. Though Elisha had long cherished such an idea, his family had not been Zionists. Still, thinking of a country in which the Jews would not be persecuted, Elisha agreed to join the Movement in order to strike fear in the hearts of the English.

Elisha listens to the Voice of Freedom, a radio broadcast, with Gad. The speaker, a member of the Movement, discusses David ben Moshe's hanging. Only a few people know the identity of the woman, but Elisha is one of them. Her name is Ilana and she is in love with Gad. Ilana next begins to discuss John Dawson, who is to die in the morning. She explains, speaking as if to John Dawson’s mother, that the Movement is not responsible for her son’s death. Instead, she blames the English government,...

(The entire section is 1765 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear