Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, represents all those who lived and died in the Holocaust. The account of his time in the Nazi concentration Camps was not written for ten years after his liberation. This is the first book in a trilogy depicting his life and his life’s work.
The title of the book is in itself a symbol. Night refers to the consistent night metaphor that Wiesel employs throughout the book; furthermore, it points to the darkness of life experienced by those who lived and died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.
The use of night also symbolizes a world without God. The worst suffering occurs at night. Wiesel contends that God does not live in the concentration camps, and God's people have no choices.
The story contains many last nights, the last night in Sighet, the last night in Buna, the last night with his father, and the last night of innocence. The book begins with Eliezer recounting some incidents regarding his father that have haunted him throughout his life.
I remember that night, the most horrendous of my life:
…Eliezer, my son, come here…I want to tell you something...Only to you…Come, don’t leave me alone …I heard his voice, grasped the meaning of his words, and yet I did not move. It had been his last wish to have me next to him, —yet I did not let him have his wish. I was afraid.
At night, and while is family is still in the ghetto, they receive the news that everyone is to be removed. Before the family realizes the depth of their tribulations, night was not to be feared. They were able to look at the heavens and see the stars. The night as always represented the rest that was needed to survive the day. Nothing seemed too bad. Then, the Gestapo and the Hungarian police moved everyone to cattle cars to be transported. Then, life became “hell.”
In his foreword, Wiesel reminds the reader that he was raised as a strict Jewish boy who studied and read the Talmud. He steps back and speaks for the child that he was as he watched the fires at Auschwitz consume his mother and sister.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp that turned my life into one long night.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
The reader should recall some of the horrible things that happened at night:
- While Eliezer sleeps, his father dies during the night and is taken to the crematorium;
- He and his father arrive at Auschwitz to the smell of burning flesh and the smell of death that penetrates the nostrils;
- The lady has visions of fire, hell, and death; one night the food tastes like corpses;
- Stacked on top of each other, many are smothered in the night.
Metaphorically, to Wiesel night becomes the suffering and hopelessness of him and his father. As Eliezer says to himself, "The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls.”
Upon arriving at Auschwitz, Eliezer enters into a world of eternal nightmares and hellish visions that he sees in reality and in his unrestful sleep. Even after leaving the concentration camps, Wiesel is haunted by the nightmarish visions he saw at Auschwitz, and not only night but even day seems threatening and dark.