Night explores the concept of dehumanization through the narrative about the degradation the Jews face at the hands of their captors and each other. In the memoir, Elie relates the circumstances of his situation once he and his father leave the ghetto at Sighet, and he describes how, in an instant, they went from being treated like people to being treated like animals.
The Jews are loaded onto cattle cars, packed with nearly 80 people together, to be shipped toward Auschwitz. The close quarters are not considered that bad until the train crosses over the Hungarian-Czech border. Once clear out of Hungary, the pretense of “relocation” is lost, and the Jews find themselves not only being treated like animals but actually called animals by the Nazi soldiers. In chapter 2 Wiesel writes,
The Hungarian lieutenant went around with a basket and retrieved the last possessions from those who chose not to go on tasting the bitterness of fear. "There are eighty of you in the car," the German officer added. "If anyone goes missing, you will all be shot, like dogs."
The German officer telling the Jews that they will be shot like dogs is the first indication that they are no longer going to be treated as human beings. That treatment continues well into their journey into Auschwitz, where babies are shot, women are murdered, and the dead are piled into mass graves. Anyone who is too sick to work is almost immediately killed, showing that the Jews's only worth in the eyes of the Nazi regime lies in their ability to work.
The dehumanization progresses rapidly in the memoir, and it is powerful—so powerful that it eventually begins to work on the Jews themselves. They ultimately dehumanize each other to the point that they mistreat each other. It isn’t a knock against the Jews in the story—they are forced by their circumstances to fight to survive—but it does speak to the power of the dehumanization the Nazis have created in the concentration camps.
Elie’s description of the way the dead are treated shows how desperation has driven the Jews to dehumanize each other,
The living were glad. They would have more room. Volunteers began the task. They touched those who had remained on the ground. "Here's one! Take him!" The volunteers undressed him and eagerly shared his garments. Then, two "gravediggers" grabbed him by the head and feet and threw him from the wagon, like a sack of flour.
The story of how the bodies are disposed of shows the mindset of survival in the camps: the Jews who survive don’t have it in them to care about others, especially those who are dead, because they have to worry about themselves. The Nazis, in treating the Jews like they are less than human, ultimately push them to act like they are less than human—a theme that Elie struggles with through the closing section of the book.