What "fine New Year's gift" did the SS give the Jews?
This passage from Elie Wiesel’s book Night is an example of verbal irony. Verbal irony is a statement the expresses the opposite of what the writer really means. It is a way of emphasizing the writer’s true intent.
In Night, Elie and his family have been deported and sent to a Nazi concentration camp. We all know that concentration camp life is brutally hard and many do not survive. Elie has already lost his mother to the crematorium and has worried constantly over the fate of his weakening father. However, when Wiesel writes
The SS offered us a fine New Year’s gift
it is not his father he has to worry about, it is himself. At this point in the story the SS has decided to conduct a selection for his block. Selection refers to the process in which prisoners are evaluated. If they are found unfit they are sent to the crematorium. When Wiesel calls it a “fine” gift he obviously means the opposite—it is very bad news, not really “fine” at all. It is possible that he will not survive the selection.
Wiesel survives the selection, but he concludes this section with a chilling observation about the poor souls who did not:
At this point in the story the Jews of Sighet and all the others with them had endured a tough winter and the SS kept reducing their rations so to add insult to injury, for the Jewish New Year, the SS "gave" them "selection". It could not have possibly been a worse time to ask the Jews to look their strongest because they had endured an excruciating year. They had been torn from their homes and thrust into a life of torture at the hands of the Nazi army. Selection was when the SS "selected" the weakest for death.
The statement " The SS gave us a fine New Year's gift" is spoken sarcastically by the author. The gift was selection. What that meant was that each man was paraded in front of the SS, and if they appeared to weak or sick, then they were killed and put in the furnace. Both Elie and his father make it through the selection.