In Night, there are several discussions about resistance by the prisoners. Why do you think there was no large scale effort to resist?
I think they lacked the leadership and unity to resist. The Jews always seemed divided when it came to the decision whether to fight or ride out the bad situation that was upon them. Many thought fighting would only bring upon more immediate and massive deaths. Without a true leader for all to rally around they were not united, and when not united, you are sure to fall.
I also think the Jews were primarily peaceful people and it isn't really in their nature to fight. We aren't talking about military men, but casual citizens, churchgoers, business owners. Arming themselves and joining a militia was out of character for them.
Great question. This is the question I get the most from students every time I teach the novel. I tell students consistently and simply: they thought (and really wanted to believe) the war could be over tomorrow. Would you risk your life with the thought that everyone could be rescued the next day? In addition, the Nazi's told them that if any of them tried to escape they would shoot an entire group of the others "like dogs". Everything happened so fast they had no time to think and plan. Eventually, brain washing and starvation set it. The Jewish people are known for their faith and they focused on it and relied on it for a long time. There were a few instances of resistance but they were not successful and only served as examples of what could not be accomplished.
Wiesel does an excellent job of explaining why people did nothing. At first, they simply to not believe. Then, they know that something is wrong but they feel like they have survived enough of the war that it must be almost over and they'll be fine. Then, once they are taken to the Ghettos they feel safe because they are together and no longer need to face daily ridicule. They feel like they have each other and can stick together.
When they are taken to the camps, it is too late. By the time they realize what situation they are in they can do nothing about it. It is easy to see why they did not believe the horror stories they heard. They thought Moishe was just trying to get attention, for example. Who could imagine such a thing, if we didn't know better? Hindsight is 20/20.
Most of them didn't really understand the magnitude of their horrific circumstances until they were already in the camps, had been shuffled and shoved around, and were herded through the lines for showers and shaves and clothing. To some extent, they were in shock. Once the shock wore off and they began to think about any kind of resistance, they were too weakened--and not just physically--to put up much of a fight. Or at least not enough of them were ready to resist at the same time. It was a lost cause.
There is a very good likelihood that the prisoners put up no real resistance because they hoped if they were compliant that perhaps they would be shown mercy. It is also possible that they were waiting for their God to deliver them. This is in fact a large part of why Elie Wiesel lost his spiritual faith. The apparent lack of concern on God's part.
This is a very interesting question, because it does raise the issue of why the Jews accepted the role of passive victims in the Holocaust. In reality, of course, you need to remember how few the Jews were in their ghettoes and how many the Germans were. The Nazis were incredibly well equipped and had a great organisational mass behind them, whereas the Jews were not organised in any way and had limited (at best) equipment open to them. In a sense, the Jews didn't resist because they knew they had no chance - resistance would have resulted in their certain deaths. It was much better to try and survive - remember that the Concentration Camps were just rumours and they were told that they were being moved - they were not informed that many of them would be gassed and burnt. It made much more sense to be subservient and have the chance of survival.
Especially by this time in the war (1945), the "Final Solution" had been in place and developing for more than eight years. The Nazis and the SS had developed techniques of dehumanizing their prisoners as well as giving them hope that they might survive this somehow. "Arbeit Macht Frei", the cruel joke suggesting that work would set them free, was repeated at all concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
Those who dared to rebel or escape were punished severely, as were others chosen at random as "reprisals". One would escape and 50 would be murdered as a result. So by this time in the war, those who had survived to that point were much less likely to be those who would rebel. In addition to the fact mentioned above, of course, that they were physically much weaker at that point.
Because they are more than half starved, sick, very cold (had have been for a long long time), weak... And they are so scared that they can probably not get enough people willing to take such a big risk to make a big enough resistance so that there are enough sick, weak, unarmed prisoners to take on the healthy, warm, well dressed, well fed, armed SS soldiers.