Elie Wiesel’s Night is an autobiographical story of his experience during the Holocaust. This small book is book is a favorite among high school teachers and students because of its honest, straightforward, and stark portrayal of Elie’s experiences.
As an earlier post noted, Wiesel attributes his survival of the Holocaust to chance more than anything else. However, there are several points in his story that suggest that his survival is also due to the help of others he encountered along the way.
When Elie and his father first arrive in Auschwitz, they are herded with the other prisoners toward an incinerator. They are still innocent of the knowledge of their fate, it is too terrible to imagine. On the way, they encounter other prisoners, veterans, who know what life in the camps is like. At one point in the story, Elie notes that they are not veterans for nothing; they know how to survive.
On their first night, as they are marched toward the smokestacks of the inferno, they encounter another prisoner who tells Elie and his father to lie about their ages in order to make them appear more suitable for survival. When Elie and his father tell this prisoner that they are fifteen and fifty, the prisoner admonishes them and tells them to lie:
No, not fifty, you’re forty. Do you hear? Eighteen and forty.
Elie and his father learn then that they must disguise their true selves from the Nazis, make themselves appear more useful, because this is the way to survive. So they spend the next year and a half trying to do that.
Elie’s father eventually perishes anyway but Elie, barely, does not. And part of what enables him to survive was the lesson he learned from this prisoner upon first entering the camp.