Night Analysis

Form and Content (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

On March 19, 1944, German Schutzstaffeln (SS) troops under Adolf Eichmann entered Hungary for the express purpose of rounding up the Jews of that country for extermination. Even as German armies elsewhere were retreating under pounding Russian advances, Adolf Hitler’s so-called final solution was extended to Hungarian Jews—who had mistakenly thought themselves safe from German danger. A few days after the invasion, SS troops appeared in the Transylvanian town of Sighet and began the brutal process that would send almost all Sighet’s fifteen thousand Jews to their deaths at Auschwitz in Poland. Among those Jews who lives were totally uprooted was a devout fourteen-year-old student of the Talmud, Eliezer Wiesel.

Wiesel’s experiences from that point to eventual liberation at Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, made up an eight-hundred-page Yiddish manuscript, written after the completion of a self-imposed ten-year period of silence, study, and reflection concerning the Holocaust. Night, outlined within weeks after his liberation (and only one-seventh of the Yiddish original), is Wiesel’s only book devoted completely to the Holocaust, although his experiences of life in Auschwitz and the loss of the six million dictate almost all Wiesel’s thought and writing.

The book’s nine chapters demarcate key events for Wiesel, detailing the gradual loss of the illusion of hope as the grim realities become paramount. Two interrelated concerns are woven throughout the narrative: Wiesel’s agonizing loss of faith in the God of his childhood and his excruciating relationship with his weakening father. The latter is marked by filial love and concern, but also by his own devastating guilt as his father slips inexorably toward death and Wiesel anticipates freedom from his burden of devotion.

Night reveals the destruction of all aspects of the accepted universe—the shtetl (the Jewish enclave) of Sighet, family life, the training of a deeply religious child, and the illusion of a caring humanity. Yet above all, it sets forth a sequence of experiences that results in Wiesel’s becoming “the accuser, God the accused.” A universe is revealed in Night in which “anything is allowed.” After seeing a truck dump babies into a burning pit, Wiesel cries,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. . . . Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. . . . 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.

Following the execution of a child possessing “the face of a sad angel,” a voice asserts that God “is hanging here on this gallows.” Wiesel is deliberately ambiguous about the source of this assertion.

The nine chapters in Night are devoted to specific aspects of Wiesel’s Holocaust experience: the warnings and illusion-filled prelude before deportation, the terrifying train ride to Auschwitz, the arrival at the gates of the SS hell, the loss of family members, and the early signs of a shattering faith. Wiesel recalls the slave labor at the Buna works adjacent to the central Auschwitz complex, the promise of the approaching Russian army’s liberation destroyed by the SS evacuation of camp inmates, the march away from Auschwitz toward Germany, the train ride to Buchenwald, the death of his father, and his own liberation. The book’s tone varies from irony to bitterness to terrible despair, with the latter perhaps being dominant. As its Yiddish title suggests (literally, “and the world remained silent”), Wiesel’s book is addressed to the world that did nothing, but it also challenges a God who did nothing.

Wiesel is acutely conscious of the duty of the survivor and writer following the Holocaust to educate that apathetic world and to provide a voice for the six million murdered Jewish victims. In an interview published in the Journal of Education (1980), he noted, “I do not write to please the reader. . . . I write for the dead.” Wiesel himself calls Night the literature of testimony.

Night Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Sighet

*Sighet (SEE-get). Transylvanian village in which the novel’s opening section is set. Scenes in Sighet provide an introduction to life in the Jewish community by focusing on Wiesel’s introduction to his Jewish heritage and religion. The invading Nazi troops establish two ghettoes into which the village’s Jews are herded after being forced to give up all but what they can carry with them.

*Birkenau

*Birkenau. Polish town that is the site of the first concentration camp in which the Wiesel family is imprisoned. Following their stay in the ghetto, the family, along with their neighbors, are put onto trains and sent to concentration camps. Their first stop is Birkenau, where they are introduced to the horrors that follow. There they see families separated, mothers and children going in one direction and fathers and working-age sons in another. Wiesel’s mother and sister are taken from him and, as he learns later, murdered. At Birkenau young Wiesel witnesses people giving up on life and willing themselves to die. In fact, Wiesel himself contemplates suicide, but the religious teachings he receives at home and the dogged determination of his father keep him from killing himself.

*Auschwitz

*Auschwitz. Polish city that is the site of another concentration camp to which Wiesel, his father, and numerous workers from their first camp are later sent. There, Wiesel is briefly separated from his father. Although he is still in a concentration camp, Wiesel finds Auschwitz much more attractive than his previous prison because it is cleaner. Even though his job as a factory worker allows him to prove that he should be allowed to live, Wiesel becomes jaded and numb to the beatings he experiences and the deaths of those around him. About the time he becomes acclimated to his new surroundings, Wiesel is sent to Buna with his father.

The greatest adjustment that Wiesel makes at the new camp is to the smell of burning bodies. There, too, Wiesel undergoes surgery on a seriously injured foot. Acquaintances warn him that he must not remain in the hospital too long or he will be killed. At one point, while still recovering, Wiesel is forced to march in the prison yard with other prisoners to prevent Russian planes from bombing the camp. In fact, the weak and wounded prisoners are forced to make a forty-two mile march to another concentration camp, Buchenwald.

Upon reaching this camp, the prisoners are allowed to rest. However, as a result of their long march and a serious case of dysentery, Wiesel’s father dies, leaving his son to survive on his own. Elie is eventually among the few prisoners who are finally liberated from Buchenwald.

Scenes in the concentration camps become even more focused when Wiesel takes readers into the barracks, factories, hospitals, and death chambers that become the scenes of horror. He survived in part because of the strong religious faith that he had developed through his early education and the examples of his parents.

Night Historical Context

Jewish women and children en route to Auschwitz Published by Gale Cengage

Hitler, WWII, and the Jewish Holocaust
The mass murder of European Jews and others under Nazi rule during World War II...

(The entire section is 944 words.)

Night Literary Style

Narrative
The novella is a short piece of fiction that is based on the author's eight hundred-page memoir of his time...

(The entire section is 900 words.)

Night Compare and Contrast

  • 1956: The Holocaust outside of Israel, is not discussed. The nearest approach is the reworking of Anne...

(The entire section is 211 words.)

Night Topics for Further Study

  • How does Elie arrive at the conclusion that he is stronger than God?
  • Talking with Jason Harris for the Tamalpais...

(The entire section is 294 words.)

Night What Do I Read Next?

  • Night is the beginning of Wiesel's oeuvre and of a trilogy. The next two works are L'aube (

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Night Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Alter, Roger. "Elie Wiesel: Between Hangman and Victim," in After the Tradition. E. P. Dutton &...

(The entire section is 812 words.)

Night Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.

Cargas, Harry James. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. South Bend, Ind.: Justice Books, 1992. A collection of interviews with the author that cover his life, politics, and literary works. Wiesel speaks frankly and extensively about his childhood in Sighet and of his time in the concentration camps—events that formed the basis for Night.

Estess, Ted L. Elie Wiesel. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. An analysis of Wiesel’s key literary works, including Night, Dawn, and The Accident. Night receives extended discussion in chapter 2.

Fine, Ellen S. Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982. A critical study of Night and Wiesel’s other Holocaust works.

Patterson, David, Alan L. Berger, and Sarita Cargas, eds. Encyclopedia of Holocaust Literature. Westport, Conn.: Oryx Press, 2002.

Rittner, Carol, ed. Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope. New York: New York University Press, 1990. A collection of seventeen essays on Wiesel’s life and literary works. Night receives an extended discussion in three essays and is mentioned in several others.

Schwarz, Daniel R. “The Ethics of Reading Elie Wiesel’s Night.” Style 32, no. 2 (Summer, 1998): 221-243.

Walker, Graham B., Jr. Elie Wiesel: A Challenge to Theology. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988. Focuses on Wiesel’s religious dilemmas as they are reflected in his major literary works.

Wiesel, Elie. All Rivers Run to the Sea. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Wiesel, Elie. “Why I Write.” In Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, edited by Jules Chametzky, John Felstiner, Hilene Flanzbaum, and Kathryn Hellerstein. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.