Elie Wiesel is a young man of twelve. He chronicles his experiences as a Jew during the Holocaust—imprisoned at Auschwitz—in his novel Night.
When Elie's story starts, the thing he is most interested in is his faith:
I believed profoundly. During the day I studied the Talmud, and at night I ran to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple.
This is a time before the Germans come, and Elie wants to learn about the cabbala, but his father believes he is too young. So Elie turns to Moshe the Beadle, a poor yet learned man in Sighet (their home town) to learn instead. Ironically, it will not be long before Elie learns horrific things about the human race, regardless of his age.
Elie grows up with a father who he saw as "unsentimental," who...
...was more concerned for others than with his own family.
Elie was a young man committed to learn about his Jewish heritage and faith. His father's distance from his family may make Elie a young man of independent thought. However, he is also a sensitive young man when he begins his story:
"Why do you weep when you pray?" [Moshe the Beadle] asked me, as though he had known me a long time.
"I don't know why," I answered, greatly disturbed.
It is not long before Elie begins to have a small glimpse of the sadness of the world, especially of the world of the Jews—though it will be some time before he understands the deeper implications of what is taking place in Sighet, Romania (which is near Hungary).
When the foreign Jews are "crammed into cattle trains by the Hungarian police," they weep, as do their neighbors and friends who are left behind. This is only the beginning. Moshe the Beadle escapes death at the hands of the Germans, but when he returns, those in Sighet refuse to listen to his warnings. Harsh reality arrives when the Germans break into their homes, take their gold and valuables, and their rights. Ultimately, they,too, are shipped out—to Auschwitz, in Poland—one of the most notorious death camps of World War II. Here, Elie and his father are separated from his mother and sister: they will never see the women again.
Quickly, Elie and his father are brushed by the certainty of death, seeing infants murdered and watching the old, the sick or the weak led away to their deaths. Elie sees his father beaten simply for asking to use the bathroom; Elie stands silently by; in saying nothing, he is amazed as to how he has changed. The day before he would have retaliated in his father's defense.
...he dealt my father such a clout that he fell to the ground, crawling back to his place on all fours.
I did not move. What had happened to me? My father had just been struck, before my very eyes, and I had not flickered an eyelid.
Elie has changed—forced to grow up, for he has learned the harsh lessons of self-preservation—the desire to survive at any cost. This most basic human impulse creates a deep sense of guilt and sorrow within him.
Elie changes in other ways. As his father grows weak, Elie resents him, but loves him, too. Elie comes to believe God has forsaken them: his faith is shattered. When his father is dead, Elie notes:
...it pained me that I could not weep. But I had no more tears.
Elie was a young man of spirit and faith. He becomes a man of sorrow, regret and broken faith. At the end, his image in the mirror shows a walking corpse: someone he does not know—an image that will forever haunt him.