In Elie Wiesel's Night, how did Elie survive?

In Elie Wiesel's Night, Elie survives largely though luck. At any given time he could easily have suffered the same fate as so many of the other Jewish prisoners. At the same time, it's important to acknowledge that Elie helped himself to survive by keeping his head down and not doing anything that might draw attention to himself.

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As Elie frankly admits, he survived his terrifying experiences of the camps largely by chance. He's equally adamant that he wasn't brave and that he didn't do anything to contribute to his survival. There was no heroism and were no miracles involved; it was all down to nothing more than...

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As Elie frankly admits, he survived his terrifying experiences of the camps largely by chance. He's equally adamant that he wasn't brave and that he didn't do anything to contribute to his survival. There was no heroism and were no miracles involved; it was all down to nothing more than chance.

In reading the story one would have to agree with Elie's assessment. At any given time, he could've ended up the same way as so many of the other Jewish prisoners. Starvation, disease, summary execution, any one of these factors could have struck him down at the drop of a hat. As there was no rhyme or reason to the Nazis' bestial savagery there was nothing to stop them from killing Elie whenever they felt like it. That they didn't was largely down to luck, as Elie realizes.

At the same time, Elie behaves in such a way as to minimize his chances of being killed. For instance, he keeps his head down, trying not to draw attention to himself. Even when his own father is being savagely beaten to within an inch of his own life, he doesn't intervene. Elie doesn't know for certain that he will survive, but he does know that the best way to maximize his chances of survival is by trying to melt into the background as much as humanly possible.

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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.

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The fact that Elie Wiesel survived his ordeal of being sent to the ghettos and then various concentration camps seems to be mere luck.  Wiesel answers this very question in the "Preface to the New Translation:"

"I don't know how I survived;  I was weak, rather shy;  I did nothing to save myself.  A miracle?  Certainly not......It was nothing more than chance."   Night, VII-VIII, Elie Wiesel

When examining the struggle of Wiesel and his father from the ghettos to the final destination at Buchenwald one understands the randomness of how death selected its victims.  Consider the journey on the open-air train to Buchenwald. One hundred passengers embarked and only twelve survived. What gave those twelve the ability and strength to disembark from that train?  Consider the factors they had to contend with:  famine, exhaustion, disease, and the trauma of the whole event.  When Wiesel says it was mere chance for him to survive, it seems to make a lot of sense.

After completing the memoir, the reader is compelled to believe that the fact that Eliezer was accompanied by his father during every step of this horrific journey played a significant role in his survival.  Throughout the book, Wiesel states how important it was that he was not separated from his father.  This poignant passage describing a harsh march in the winter cold is significant to understanding this connection:

My father's presence was the only thing that stopped me (from giving up). He was running next to me, out of breath, out of strength, desperate.  I had no right to let myself die.  What would he do without me?  I was his sole support.     --Night, Page 86-87  

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