After the prisoners are shaven, given tattoos, and uniforms, what are they left with in Night by Elie Wiesel? 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Night by Elie Wiesel provides insight into the life of a young boy and his father trying to survive the living nightmare of the concentration camps during World War II. If the father had listened to the rumors going through their small town, the family could have escaped.  He chose to stay, and the family along with everyone else in their town was placed on the train with their possessions and taken to the first of three camps that the boy survives.  The rest of his family die in the camps.

As the Jewish people move out of the cattle cars and toward the concentration camps, they are forced to leave all of their possessions behind. Wiesel comments on the eight words that he would never forget hearing; Men to the left; women to the right. At that moment, Eliezer does not realize that he will never see his mother or sister again.

Eliezer does not intend to lose his father and attaches himself to him. They learn to lie about their ages in order to survive.  Many pray while they await the decision of whether they will be allowed to live.  The boy does not pray because he feels the beginnings of his anger toward God for allowing these terrible things to happen. After a long miserable night, the men are beaten, forced to strip off their clothes, and shaved. 

The men are then forced to go outside in the cold to a disinfectant bath.  Afterwards, they are given prisoner’s clothing. At that point, Wiesel felt like the men stopped being men. They lose their individuality and identity.

We were incapable of thinking.  Our senses were numbed, everything was fading into a fog.  We no longer clung to anything.  The instincts of self-preservation, of self-defense, of pride, had all deserted us…I thought of us as damned souls wandering through the void…

Eventually, they are given numbers.  The boy is no longer Eliezer Wiesel.  Now after his tattoo is placed on his arm, he is A-7713. 

What has Eliezer been left? He still has his ability to think and work. Luckily for now, he has his father. Many men had no relatives with them. 

The Nazis try to take Eliezer’s gold crown; however, he lies and tells the dentist that he is sick.  Other than his basic humanity which at times he feels that he has lost, nothing worldly is left to him as a prisoner.  It is only what the individual can retain within his faith and the human spirit that wants to survive which must  be maintained if one is to make it to the end of this terrible journey.