Night by Elie Wiesel is the story of Elie's life before and during his time in Auschwitz, a Polish concentration camp. One of the saddest elements of this devastating story is that the family (and presumably other families) had chances to escape but did not take them because they did not believe anything would happen to them. The Wiesels were given four specific opportunities to leave, but they stayed--until they were taken away by force.
Moshe the Beadle, an Hassidic Jew and a foreigner, is a familiar figure in the town. Though he is a bit of an eccentric, he is a devout student of the Kabbalah and becomes Elie's teacher. One day the Hungarian police round up all the foreign Jews, and Moshe the Beadle iss taken. He is miraculously able to come back to Sighet, and he tries to warn everyone he knows about what was ahead of them.
The train with the deportees had crossed the Hungarian border and, once in Polish territory, had been taken over by the Gestapo. The train had stopped. The Jews were ordered to get off and onto waiting trucks. The trucks headed toward a forest. There everybody was ordered to get out. They were forced to dig huge trenches. When they had finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion or haste, they shot their prisoners, who were forced to approach the trench one by one and offer their necks. Infants were tossed itno the air and used as targets for machine guns.... How had he, Moshe the Beadle, been able to escape? By a miracle. He was wounded in the leg and left for dead.
This is so matter-of-fact on paper as we read it (which only adds to the horror as we read it today), and we know now that it was true. At the time, however, it must have sounded like the rantings of a lunatic who was seeing visions or perhaps going a little crazy. In any case, no one believed him. If they had, they could still have escaped the horrors to come.
In the early days of the war, the Jews were still allowed to emigrate to Palestine. Elie asks his father if they can leave, but he refuses, saying he is too old to start a new life in a new place. Again, no one believed anything was going to happen to them so there was no need to leave.
Marta, a non-Jewish family servant, understands the danger the family is in, and she begs them to go away to her family's cabin so they can escape the trouble. Again there is not enough reason to heed the warnings, and the family stays.
Even once they were in the ghetto the Wiesels had one last opportunity to escape. A friend of Elie's father, a Hungarian police officer, told Elie's father he would try to warn them if anything was going to happen, and he keeps his word. He knocks on the window the night before everything changed, but the family cannot get the window unlocked in time and another, final opportunity was lost.
Thinking about these things has undoubtedly grieved ELi over the years; for us, however, these opportunities serve as a reminder both that the actions against the Jews were both subtle and quick and that there were people who tried to help them.