In Night by Elie Wiesel, what eight words separate Elie and his family forever?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Elie Wiesel's Night describes the horrific experiences of Jewish individuals who were forced into concentration camps during World War II and systematically beaten, starved, overworked, and killed. The book is largely considered a memoir, although it has gone through several major edits as it has been translated from Yiddish (with an originally 862-page manuscript) to French and English.

After being brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau by a cattle wagon with eighty other future prisoners, "Eliezer" is separated from most of his family by the splitting of male and female prisoners into two different lines. An SS man with a club orders, "Men to the left! Women to the right!" Eliezer and his father move to the left, while his mother and sisters are ushered off to the right. Elie comments in the book, "I didn't know that this was the moment in time and the place where I was leaving my mother and Tzipora forever." This single moment defines the rest of Elie's life and results in huge personal loss... the beginning of a nightmare from which Elie will barely escape.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Jewish community in Sighet, Hungary was oblivious of the danger posed by the ascension of the Nazi to power. Although they heard horror stories from beyond their region, of the atrocities meted against Jews. The Jews of Sighet chose to ignore these warnings until it was too late. Elie and his family resided in Sighet until the Hungarian police handed them over to the Gestapo, who transported them together with the other Jews to concentration camps.

Transport was arranged for the Jews who traveled from Sighet to Kaschau then to Auschwitz and finally to Birkenau, not sure of what awaited them at the camp. On arrival, the men were separated from the women. This would be the last time Elie saw his mother and sister, Tzipora. Eight words spoken by an SS officer separated Elie’s family forever.

An SS came toward us wielding a club. He commanded: "Men to the left! Women to the right!" Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words.

cmcqueeney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the third section of the book, Elie arrives at Auschwitz with his family.  As they depart from the train, the SS officers command, "Men to the left! Women to the right!"

Elie responds with the thoughts, "Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion.  Eight short, simple words.  Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother.  I had not had time to think, but already I felt the pressure of my father's hand; we were alone."  After that time, Elie never sees his mother or sisters again.  The scene emphasizes the cold cruelty of the Nazi guards, and the tragedies that were daily wrought upon the Jews in the concentration camps.  Elie lost the majority of his family in a single, indifferent moment.