Silence is a powerful and persistent theme in Elie Wiesel’s Night. He wrote the book in part to challenge the world’s silence concerning Nazi atrocities. In writing it, he also broke his own silence, which included a ten-year period during which he reflected deeply on his experiences. Silence is associated with complicity in countless people who did not speak out against Nazi practices and policies at various, ever-worsening stages.
Wiesel used a fictionalized format for the short work that is Night, which came from his lengthy memoir, but he remained uncomfortable with choosing the right words to express his own situation and that of other survivors. He carefully considered what kinds of gaps separate those words, and various kinds of separations constitute silence within his prose. This type of silence may be inferred by the reader, such as when the passage of time occurs between passages. It may also be indicated by blanks and spaces on the page, which he included rather than providing chapter titles to convey a sense of emptiness.
Although silence has numerous negative connotations, Wiesel also shows the necessity and the protective cloak that silence sometimes offered. Within the camps, guards might use the prisoners’ noise to rationalize brutal attacks. Stoically bearing the hardships in silence became an important tool of survival.