What is the book Night about?

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Night is part of a trilogy written by Elie Wiesel describing his horrific experiences as a Jewish prisoner during World War II. During this period, the Nazi determination to exterminate Jews and other so-called “inferior” people led to the mass deportation and imprisonment in death camps of members of these minority groups. In Night, Wiesel writes about the small town in Eastern Europe where he grew up in a traditional Jewish home with his parents and sisters. When the Jews were rounded up by the Hungarian police at the behest of the Nazis, he and his father were separated from his mother and sisters. Wiesel writes,

The Hungarian police used their rifle butts, their clubs to indiscriminately strike old men and women, children and cripples.

Wiesel writes poignantly about never seeing his little sister again and remembers the small child clinging to her mother’s hand. His mother and sister presumably were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz, while Wiesel and his father were sent to a different camp where they were put to work, starved, and forced to live in horrific conditions.

Wiesel describes the brutality the prisoners endured in the camp, the atrocities committed by the Nazi guards, and the occasional public hangings the prisoners were forced to watch. People in the camps were forced to work long days at physical labor while living on meager food rations that barely enabled them to stay alive. Wiesel also describes the humanity many prisoners showed despite the unlivable conditions and treatment to which they were subjected. He talks about a young girl who comforted him after he received a beating from a Nazi guard, a girl who risked the threat of retaliation simply in order to offer Wiesel a small kindness. He also describes the persistent belief in God that some prisoners retained, as well as the loss of belief that many experienced because of their situation, which led them to question how a God could possibly exist who would allow such inhumane treatment to go on.

Wiesel lost several family members in the extermination camps, and in Night, he asks how such unbelievable treatment could have been perpetrated by human beings upon other human beings. He notes,

He had seen his mother, a beloved little sister, and most of his family, except his father and two other sisters, disappear in a furnace fueled by living creatures.

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On the surface, Night is a standard Holocaust memoir, but what makes it stand out more than other Holocaust literature is Elie Wiesel's frank discussion about his loss of faith.  So, while the book can be summarized as the story of a teenager who survives several concentration camps during the Holocaust, it is truly about how someone can completely lose his or her faith.  Elie begins the memoir as a young man who is so religious that he voluntarily studies the Cabbalist form of Judaism in his spare time, but as he witnesses horrific incidents and loses almost every member of his family, he abandons his belief in a loving, merciful God and leans toward an Existentialist worldview.

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This book is about the Holocaust and the way in which one young Jewish boy struggles to stay alive and stay sane as he lives through the ordeal of the concentration camps.

The book was written by Elie Wiesel, who is perhaps the most famous survivor of the Holocaust in the world.  He went through the Holocaust himself, having been born in 1928 as a Jew in Romania.  After the war, he dedicated much of his life to teaching others about the Holocaust.  He wrote the book in the late 1950s as part of his attempt to make sure that no one ever forgets what happened in those years.

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