Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
At the beginning of Night, Wiesel introduces someone he met toward the end of 1941. His name was Moshe, and he became one of the boy’s teachers. They discussed religious topics, and one day they talked about prayer. Wiesel asked Moshe why he prayed, and his teacher replied that he prayed for strength to ask God the right questions. Later, the Hungarian police deported Moshe from Sighet, Wiesel’s hometown, because he was a foreigner. His destination was Poland and death at the hands of the Germans, but somehow Moshe escaped and found his way back to Sighet. The Jews of Sighet did not believe his tale of destruction.
Although the Holocaust was raging all around them, the Hungarian Jews were not decimated until 1944. Their lives began to change drastically, however, once the Germans occupied Hungary that March. In a matter of days, Sighet’s Jews had to deal with quarantines, expropriations of their property, and the yellow stars that targeted them. Then they were ghettoized and deported. Jammed into train cars, destination unknown, the Jews of Sighet—Elie Wiesel, his little sister, Tzipora, and their parents among them—eventually crossed the Polish frontier and arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Emerging from their train-car prisons into midnight air fouled by burning flesh, the Jews of Sighet were separated by the secret police: men to the left, women to the right. Wiesel lost sight of his mother and little sister, not fully aware...
(The entire section is 556 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Night, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of the Holocaust, tells of his concentration camp experience. Encompassing events from the end of 1941 to 1945, the book ponders a series of questions, whose answers, Moché the Beadle, who was miraculously saved from an early German massacre, reminds the boy, lie “only within yourself.”
Moché, who teaches the boy the beauty of biblical studies, is a strange character with a clownish awkwardness, more God’s madman than mentally ill; he is also a recurring figure in later Wiesel works. After Moché returns to town to describe the horrible scenes he has witnessed, no one listens to this apparently insane rambler who, like Cassandra, repeats his warnings in vain. The clown, a moving and tragic fool, is unable to convince the Jewish community of its impending doom. Despite arrests, ghettoizations, and mass deportations, the Jews still cannot believe him, even as they embark for Auschwitz.
In 1944, the young narrator is initiated into the horrors of the archipelago of Nazi death camps. There he becomes A-7713, deprived of name, self-esteem, identity. He observes and undergoes hunger, exhaustion, cold, suffering, brutality, executions, cruelty, breakdown in personal relationships, and flames and smoke coming from crematories in the German death factories. In the barracks of terror, where he sees the death of his mother and seven-year-old sister, his religious faith is corroded. The world no longer...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Eliezer lives with his parents and his three sisters in the village of Sighet in Transylvania. He studies the Talmud, the Jewish holy book, under the tutelage of Moshe the Beadle. Late in 1941, the Hungarian police expel all foreign Jews, including Moshe, from Sighet in cattle cars. Several months later, Moshe returns and informs Eliezer that the deported Jews had been turned over to the German Gestapo and executed in a forest in Poland. Moshe had managed to escape. He had returned to Sighet to warn the Jewish community of what would happen to all Jews if they remained in the area.
Moshe’s warning is ignored, and the Jews of Sighet continue with their daily routines. During the Passover celebration of 1944, however, German soldiers arrive in Sighet, arrest Jewish leaders, confiscate the valuables of Jewish townspeople, and force all Jews to live in a restricted section of town. A short time later, all of Sighet’s Jews are forced into cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz, the site of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. On the train ride to Auschwitz, one woman goes mad; in her delirium, she has visions of a huge furnace spewing flames, a foreshadowing of the crematories that would take the lives of many concentration camp inmates.
When they arrive at Auschwitz, Eliezer and his father are separated from his mother and sisters. Many children are led directly toward a crematory, where they are immediately executed. All the men have their...
(The entire section is 872 words.)
Night opens with a description of Moshe the Beadle, a poor Jew in Sighet, who is teaching Jewish mysticism to young Eliezer. After Moshe is expelled with the other foreign-born Jews, he miraculously returns to tell the Jews of Sighet that all those who were expelled have been killed. However, none of the villagers believe him, and eventually Moshe stops telling his tale. In the spring of 1944, German troops appear in Sighet, and the occupiers issue anti-Semitic decrees and establish two Jewish ghettos. Eventually, the Jews of Sighet are told that they are going to be evacuated.
The Germans pack Eliezer and his family onto a train. Madame Schacter screams every night that she sees a fire and the others try to silence her, shaken by her insanity. It is not until they approach the camp itself, and see flames, that they realize that she has predicted their fate. They have arrived at Birkenau.
The guards order the men and women to separate, and Eliezer is parted from his mother and little sister forever. He and his father see little children being burned alive and Eliezer realizes that he will never forget the sight. In the barracks, Eliezer's father asks an SS officer where the lavatories are and the man strikes him. Eliezer does nothing for fear of being struck himself, but he vows never to forgive the staking of his father. The men are then marched to Auschwitz.
(The entire section is 1262 words.)
Section 1 Summary
As a child in Sighet, Hungary, Elie Wiesel lives with his shop-owner father, his mother, and three sisters. Elie wants to study the cabbala, the mystical studies of the Jewish traditions. When he asks permission from his father, he is told that he is too young, that it is not until the age of thirty that one is considered mature enough to take on this extensive course of study. But Elie decides that he will find a teacher for himself. When he is twelve, at the end of 1941, he encounters Moshe the Beadle, who works at the synagogue. Moshe questions him, telling him that man raises himself toward God by the questions he asks. Yet man cannot understand the answers that God gives him. Moshe states that it is only within oneself that one can find the answers. Moshe thus prays that God will give him the strength to ask the right questions. And so Elie begins his study of the cabbala with Moshe.
One day it is announced that all foreign Jews are expelled from Hungary. Moshe and the others are crammed onto cattle cars and transported out of the city. After some months, Moshe is back in Sighet. He tells the story that he and the others were brought into a forest where they were made to dig huge graves. Then they were killed, including the small babies, who were used as target practice. Moshe had only a wounded leg. Eventually he escaped and returned home. When he tells of what is happening to the Jews, no one believes him.
In the spring of 1944, there is news that the Germans are being defeated. Then the Fascist party rises to power. Soon, German troops enter the village. They are housed in the homes of the residents, even the Jews. They are well behaved until the week of Passover. It is then announced that every Jew must wear a yellow star, and their rights are placed under severe restrictions. Elie’s father does not see any harm in wearing the yellow star. “You don’t die of it,” he said. Then the Jews are rounded up into two ghettos. Elie’s family is in the larger one. The Jews form their own council of self-government. The word then comes that all the Jews in Sighet are to be deported. Thinking that perhaps it is only to protect them from the advancing troops, the Jews do not yet panic. Street by street, the Jews are driven out of the large ghetto and crammed into the smaller one. An old servant, Martha, tells the Wiesel family to come to her village for safety. Elie’s father refuses to leave his wife and baby, and the...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Section 2 Summary
There is not enough space for all the people on the transport train, so the Jews must stand or occasionally take turns sitting. The young people flirt in the darkness, and the others pretend not to notice. Thirst and heat take their toll after two days. Having some provisions, they eat a little but are always mindful to leave some for the next day.
When the train stops on the Czechoslovakian border, the Jews know that they are leaving Hungary. A German officer tells them that if they still have any valuables, they should hand them over now or be shot. He tells those who feel ill to go to the hospital car. Since there are eighty people in the car, there had better be eighty people when they arrive, or else they will all be shot.
A woman known to the Wiesels, Madame Schachter, is with her ten-year-old son. Her husband and other sons had been mistakenly transported previously. Because of the tragedy, Madame Schachter has lost her mind. In the dark, she cries out, “Fire! I can see a fire!” The others by the window look out but see nothing. They tell the woman to be quiet but she still cries out. Someone tries to calm her, but she continues to warn of fire. Her young son tries to make her be quiet. Eventually some men tie her up and gag her. Their nerves are all on edge. Somehow she gets loose and again cries out, “Fire!” They tie her up again, even strike her. All through the night she continues to cry out. During the day she is quiet, but when night returns, so do her cries.
After several days, the train stops. They discover that they are at Auschwitz, but the name means nothing to them. They hear that it is a good work camp where the families can stay together. Madame Schachter stands up and again cries out, “The fire! The furnace! Look over there!” They all look out but again see nothing. After several hours, the train begins to move and Madame Schachter cries out again. The others look out, and this time they see flames coming from the top of a tall chimney, along with a terrible burning odor. The doors of the train open and guards order them at. They are at Birkenau, the reception center for Auschwitz.
(The entire section is 396 words.)
Section 3 Summary
At Birkenau, the men and women are separated. In hindsight, Elie realizes that this was the last time he saw his mother and sister alive. One of the prisoners warns him to say he is eighteen, though he is in fact fourteen, and his father is to say he is forty instead of fifty. Another man comes to them and asks what they are doing here. At Auschwitz they are going to be thrown into the furnaces, he tells them. Some of the new prisoners contemplate attacking the guards, and an old man tells everyone that they must never lose faith.
When Elie approaches the notorious Dr. Mengele, “the Angel of Death,” he is asked his age. Elie replies that he is eighteen. When asked his occupation, he contemplates saying he is a student but instead says he is a farmer. He is motioned to go to the left, as is his father. A prisoner tells them that the left path leads to the crematory. Elie passes the ditch where bodies are being burned, and he sees small children and babies burning. He realizes that his reality is now a nightmare. His father regrets that Elie did not tell his true age, as many boys were sent along with their mothers. Elie’s father believes that they are all going to the crematory. Elie states that he would rather throw himself on the electric fence and take his own life than suffer the flames of the furnace. His father does not reply but only weeps. Around him, the men begin to sing the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. It is the first time that Elie has heard anyone sing the prayer for the dead on their own behalf. As for Elie, he refuses to pray to a God who is silent in the midst of this hell. He remembers the cries of Madame Schachter on the train. This is what she saw.
At the barracks, the men are told to undress, and all their hair is shaved off. They are disinfected and then sent through the showers. Clothes are thrown to them. It is night. They are now in Auschwitz. The guard tells them there are only two choices: work or death. If they refuse to work, they will be sent to the crematory. Elie’s father is seized with colic and requests to use the lavatory. He is knocked down and sent back into line.
For several days they do no work. Their arms are tattooed with identification numbers. A relative from Belgium finds the Wiesels and asks about his wife and children. Elie lies and tells him they are well, although he actually knows nothing about their situation. After three weeks in Auschwitz, the men...
(The entire section is 466 words.)
Section 4 Summary
At Buna, Elie is sent to work sorting electrical fixtures. A pair of brothers, Yossi and Tibi, befriends him. They speak of Palestine, where Elie’s father refused to immigrate. Unlike him, they would take the first boat to Haifa if they could.
Elie is moved to the musicians’ block, headed by a German Jew. Life is a little easier for them. Elie is sent to the dentist to have his gold crown removed, but he pleads illness. The dentist lets him go, as long as he promises to return. Elie does so in a week. The dentist is so impressed that he came back of his own accord that he lets him go again. Not long after, the dentist is executed for taking some of the prisoners’ gold teeth for himself.
In the warehouse where he works, Elie is often by a French girl. Because they cannot speak each other’s language, they do not converse. One day one of the guards, Idek, beats Elie for no reason. The French girl wipes the blood away and gives him a piece of bread, speaking German to him. Many years later in Paris, Elie sees a beautiful young woman whom he recognizes as the French girl. He asks her if she were Jewish. She replies that she was, but she passed as an Aryan. The German words she spoke to him that day put her in danger, but she knew Elie wouldn’t give her away.
One day, when the prisoners are loading engines onto trains, Idek the guard begins to beat Elie’s father. Elie merely moves away to avoid being beaten himself. He reflects that this coldness toward the suffering of his own father was a part of what the concentration camp had made of him.
At another time, the foreman Franek demands that Elie give him his gold crown. Elie tells him that he cannot eat without it and refuses. He says he must ask his father’s advice first. Mr. Wiesel tells him that he must not give up his crown. Franek, however, knows how to torture Elie. Mr. Wiesel is not adept at marching, never having served in the military. Franek repeatedly beats him every time he missteps. Elie tries to teach his father to march, but eventually he gives in and lets Franek remove his crown. Later Franek was transferred with the rest of the Poles, so Elie lost his gold crown for nothing.
One Sunday, Elie catches Idek trying to rape a young Polish girl. Idek threatens him if he should tell anyone about it. Later, Idek calls Elie out from roll call, has him lie across a crate, and beats him.
An air raid is sounded on...
(The entire section is 574 words.)
Section 5 Summary
As the end of the Jewish year approaches, the prisoners gather to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. As prayers are made to God, Elie cannot bring himself to pray to a God whom he feels has forgotten him. In his youth he had viewed the Jewish New Year as a time to pray for forgiveness of his sins. Now he refuses to plead. He feels strong, stronger than the God who deserted him. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the question arises of fasting. If they fast in their weakened condition, it could mean death. The majority of the prisoners decide that such a fast would be especially meaningful. Elie, on the orders of his father, does not join in the fast. As he eats, he feels a great void.
After the New Year, a selection is announced. This means that the prisoners will be examined for physical fitness. Those who are too weak to work will be sent to the crematory. One of the prisoners advises Elie and his two friends to run around, bringing a glow to their bodies. They are also advised to run very fast straight toward the guards during the selection. Elie runs so fast that the guards could not even see his number. His father also believes that he has escaped. Several days later, however, when the numbers are read of those who are to remain in camp, Elie’s father is one of the number. He gives Elie his knife and spoon (Elie calls them his “inheritance”) and tells Elie not to give up hope. There is a possibility he might escape the second selection. As Elie works all day, he fears what he will find when he returns to the barracks. When the day is through, he discovers that his father is alive. He made it through the second selection.
Winter settles in, along with extreme cold. Elie’s foot becomes swollen from the cold. When he can no longer walk, he goes to the medical section. It is decided that Elie will have an operation. Elie fears that his foot will be amputated, so he is overjoyed on awakening to discover that the doctor merely drained some pus off the sole of his foot. As he recuperates, he learns that the Russian army is approaching and there is to be an evacuation. He is not sure that he could walk with his foot, and he learns that those in the hospital wing will be left behind. His father contemplates staying behind as well to nurse him, but then they learn that it is likely that the patients in the hospital will be executed and sent to the crematory before the Russians arrive. Elie and his father decide to evacuate with...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Section 6 Summary
As the prisoners walk through the night, the snow and the cold become overwhelming. The SS guards force them to run faster, which Elie sees positively as a means to get warm. He drags his skeletal body forward, feeling that it weighs much more than it does. By his side runs Zalman, a young Polish boy from the electrical warehouse. He is overcome with stomach cramps. When he stops to relieve himself, his is trampled to death by the prisoners. Elie now fears that his wounded foot will cause him to stumble and face a similar fate. It is only his father’s presence that keeps him going.
By morning they run forty-two miles. They come to a deserted village and stop at a warehouse. Cramming into the building, they find that the snow covers the inside as well as out. Elie lies down to sleep but his father pulls him up, afraid that he will freeze to death in the snow. They go outside only to find corpses in the snow. Stepping over them, the father and son find a place to sit down inside a shed. Mr. Wiesel wants Elie to sleep some, with him keeping guard to prevent him from freezing. Two other friends had done the same thing. One is dead; the other falls asleep, certain to die as well.
An old man, Rabbi Eliahou, comes into the shed, looking for his son. They had stayed together for three years, moving from camp to camp. Elie says that he has not seen him. When the rabbi leaves, Elie suddenly remembers that he did indeed see his son, running ahead of his father. Elie is horrified that the son was trying to outdistance the father, whom he felt was soon to die and did not want to be bothered with him. Elie prays to the God in whom he no longer believes that he would not ever do the same thing.
The prisoners march on, the guards driving them ever forward. There is no longer any discipline in the march, just a movement forward as best they can. At last they reach the camp at Gleiwitz. All the prisoners fall down where they are. Elie fears he will be crushed to death. He discovers that under him is Juliek, the violin player from Buna. Juliek confesses that he is afraid of being shot, since he brought his violin with him. Elie loses consciousness, and when he awakes, he hears Juliek playing Beethoven. Ever after, when he heard Beethoven, Elie thought of the young Polish violinist.
The prisoners stay at Gleiwitz for three days. They are not given food or water. Not allowed to bend down, they survive by using their...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
Section 7 Summary
Loaded back on the train, Elie, his father, and the other prisoners become lethargic, unable to fight against approaching death. When daylight appears, Elie sees a cluster of human shapes covered with snow and frost. He sees a man who has frozen to death. Beside him, his father does not move. Elie tries to awaken him but gets no response. If his father dies, Elie states, Elie has no reason to live.
The train stops in the middle of a deserted field. SS officers open the door, telling the prisoners to throw out the dead bodies. The living rejoice because it will mean more room. The dead are stripped of their clothes and thrown out into the snowy field. Elie desperately tries to wake up his father, slapping his face repeatedly. At last his father’s eyes blink. The guards move on.
The prisoners are given no food. They live on the snow that blows through the openings. Ten days pass. At one stop someone throws in a piece of bread. The prisoners dive for the crumbs as the German guards laugh at them. Elie flashes forward to a time in Aden (in Yemen in Africa) when a French tourist threw out coins to the local children. They scramble to get it, reminding Elie of the prisoners fighting over the bread on the train. Elie begs the woman to stop, but she states that she enjoys giving “charity.” Elie sees an old man crawl from the huddle with his hand clutched to his chest. Initially, Elie thinks the man was wounded, but he soon realizes that he has a crust of bread. The old man’s son beats his father, trying to get the bread. The others throw themselves on the two, who are soon crushed under the burden. Elie is horrified that he saw a fifteen-year-old son try to keep the last morsel of food from a father.
One night, Elie wakes up to find someone trying to strangle him. His father cannot stave off the attacker, so he calls for Meir Katz, a friend from Banu. At last Elie is freed. Later, Katz tells Elie’s father that he is fading fast. Mr. Wiesel tells him to hold on and to not lose faith in himself.
On the last day, someone warns the prisoners not to stay seated but to get up and move to keep from freezing. They all get up and move a few steps when a cry breaks out. Someone has died. The others also cry out, this death of all deaths affecting them. The cries spread from car to car. That evening, the train arrives at Buchenwald. Of the one hundred men who got on the train, only a dozen are left alive.
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Section 8 Summary
At the gate of Buchenwald, the SS officers sort the prisoners into groups of five, then into groups of one hundred. Elie holds onto his father’s hand, ever fearful that they would become separated. One of the prisoners tells them that they would have a hot shower and then go to their barracks and bed. Elie encourages his father to hang on, but he does not respond. There is a crowd trying to get into the showers. Mr. Wiesel, growing ever weaker, begs Elie to leave him. He sits down on a snow bank, only to find that it is a pile of frozen corpses. Elie screams at him to get up, that he cannot rest yet. Mr. Wiesel, slowly losing his touch with reality, tells Elie to let the corpses sleep, but Elie shouts that they will never wake.
The sirens begin to wail and there is an air raid alert. Elie goes into the blocks, leaving his father behind. At daybreak, he realizes what he has done. He does not want to be like the sons he has seen who have abandoned their fathers. He goes out to find him, hoping that he will not, so that he can be freed of his burden and concentrate on his own survival. After hours, Elie finds him in line for coffee. He sees that he is fading fast. Over the next several days, Mr. Wiesel often does not recognize Elie. At last, overcome with dysentery, he tells Elie where he hid the gold in the cellar. Elie tries to get a doctor to care for his father, but each physician tells him that his father’s case is hopeless and recommends that he no longer feed him but instead take care of himself. Mr. Wiesel begs for water, but Elie hesitates to give him some because of the dysentery.
When Elie visits his father, Mr. Wiesel tells him that the people around him beat him and steal his bread. Elie decides to act as if he, himself, is an invalid and stays with his father. On January 28, 1945, Elie hears his father call his name from the bunk below. He does not answer. The next morning, Elie looks in his father’s bunk and finds another invalid. Someone took his father in the night and threw him in the crematory, perhaps not yet dead. Elie cannot weep. All he can think is “free at last!”
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Section 9 Summary
Elie remains at Buchenwald until April 11. The time between his father’s death and his release are a blank. Nothing matters in life; nothing can touch him. He is transferred to the children’s block (he is fifteen years old) along with six hundred others. The end of the war is approaching. The Allied armies are approaching. However, the only thought that Elie has is of food. All his dreams are about food.
On April 5, there is a delay in the call to gather in the square. This has never happened before; everyone is sure something has happened. Two hours later, the loudspeaker announces that all Jews must come to the assembly place. Elie is sure that this is the end for the Jews, that Hitler’s Final Solution of the extinction of all of them is about to take place. The guard tells the children that this is the only thing they can do. However, one of prisoners tells them to go back to their block and stay there, which they do. There is a camp resistance organization that has armed itself and is prepared to fight back should the final extinction commence. They will not let the Jews be exterminated.
A general roll call is announced in which all the prisoners will have to present themselves. The head of the camp announces that Buchenwald will be liquidated (abandoned and destroyed). Ten blocks of prisoners will be evacuated each day. There will be no more bread or soup.
Five days later, with still twenty thousand prisoners in the camp, the decision is made to evacuate everyone at once. The camp will be blown up. As everyone is massed in the assembly square, the air raid sirens begin to wail. The prisoners return to the blocks, planning to evacuate the next day.
The prisoners have had no food for six days. The next morning, the resistance movement takes action. They rise up in arms everywhere. With guns and bombs overhead, the children lie flat inside the blocks. The SS officers flee. The prisoners are in charge of the camp. That evening, the first American tank arrives.
The prisoners think of nothing but food. Elie contracts food poisoning and spends two weeks hovering near death. When he is able to stand up, he looks at himself in the mirror. He sees the face and the eyes of a corpse. It is the first time he has looked in a mirror since he left the ghetto the year before. Elie states that the look in the eyes in the mirror, looking back at him, has never left him.
(The entire section is 436 words.)