Night Analysis

  • Night itself comes to symbolize death and the loss of hope. Wiesel writes about how the horrors of the Holocaust caused him to lose faith in God and humanity.
  • Wiesel states that he shall never forget his first night in the camps. He then repeats the phrase “never shall I forget” several more times as he describes the various horrors of the camps, emphasizing the importance of memory.
  • Night recounts Elie Wiesel’s life through the end of World War II. The story begins in 1941, when Wiesel starts his studies with Moshe the Beadle, and traces Wiesel’s experiences through his time in Auschwitz.

Analysis

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Last Updated March 31, 2023.

Although it is set in the specific context of the concentration camps of World War II’s Holocaust, Night issues a caution that is timeless. From a child’s perspective, Eliezer depicts the cruelty inflicted on innocent people at a moment in history when bitter racism poisoned entire nations. As a young boy, Eliezer begins to learn more about his faith and further enmesh himself in his community’s beliefs; what he could not know was that, as he did, the Nazi regime was quietly, determinedly committing itself to the process of eliminating Jews from existence. 

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, approximately six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the exact number is impossible to calculate because, as Eliezer depicts through his narrative, Jewish lives were often extinguished quickly and without any formal record keeping. It is also important to remember that the Nazi regime sought to eliminate other groups from the population, as well. During the Holocaust, approximately 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish civilians, 500,000 Roma Gypsies, 250,000 individuals with disabilities, and countless thousands of homosexuals were also killed as Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, sought to create a racially pure state and expand Germany’s territory.

Eliezer’s narrative, therefore, offers only a slim representation of the horrifying multitude of diverse individuals and groups who suffered at the hands of Hitler’s deluded vision. In a modern world where nearly a quarter of young Americans reportedly believe that the Holocaust never happened or has been exaggerated, Night is a bleak—but very necessary—reminder of the atrocities that humans can commit against particular groups of people when racism or other such forms of discrimination are allowed to flourish. 

The memoir stands as an enduring testimony to the unfathomable horrors that occurred within the barbed-wire walls of the concentration camps; when Eliezer is finally allowed to disembark from an overcrowded cattle car, his senses are immediately flooded with the sensory knowledge that human beings are being burned in the nearby crematoriums. His survival is completely dependent on the whims of Nazi officers, who flippantly decide which Jews will live and which will die.

From a modern historical vantage point, it is easy to question how Jews could have failed to realize what was happening and therefore saved themselves. In his Nobel acceptance speech, Wiesel explains that everything happened “so fast.” He recalls questioning his father, wondering how “such crimes [could] be committed” in the twentieth century. At the time, the full scope of reality was impossible to truly comprehend, and many of the more horrifying details about the conduct and intention of the concentration camps were not made common knowledge until the Allied forces began locating and liberating the remaining prisoners near the end of the war.

This skewed sense of reality and its accompanying false sense of security is well-represented in Eliezer’s narrative. When the townspeople of Sighet watch their foreign Jewish neighbors collected and expelled from their community, they excuse these actions without much thought, content to resume “typical” life. When Moishe the Beadle warns his community of the vile crimes against humanity that he personally witnessed, the townspeople dismiss him as an insane man—or, worse, as someone exaggerating the truth in search of pity.

Even with Moishe the Beadle’s warnings, the Jewish population of Sighet fails to recognize the tangible threat expanding within their community. When they are forced to begin wearing the yellow star, community leaders consult with Eliezer's father because he is a respected man within their town; he insists that the star “isn’t lethal,” a statement that Eliezer finds incredibly ironic in retrospect. Even when they are forced to live together in ghettos, Eliezer recalls that there was no real sense of fear in their circumstances and that “little by little life returned to ‘normal.’”

The tendency of humans to normalize abusive and even dangerous behaviors is not unique to the events of the Holocaust. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Wiesel reminds his audience that “human rights are being violated on every continent” and that “more people are oppressed than free.” He then poses a legitimate question: “How can one not be sensitive to their plight?”

Even today, there is no ongoing global concern for victims of systematic oppression and targeted violence. Afghani women and girls are barred from secondary education, and their ability to move freely within their communities is limited. In Kuwait, men who kill their wives, mothers, daughters, or sisters because of alleged extramarital sexual activities face a maximum of three years in prison; in reality, many are simply fined and allowed to walk free. 

In Myanmar, the Rohingya people are not recognized as having citizenship; they face regulations restricting their movement, the denial of adequate food and water resources, and are often held indefinitely in detention camps. In the U.S., systemic racism deleteriously affects Black Americans, who face police violence, heightened indictment rates, and significantly longer prison sentences. 

All over the world, similar atrocities are committed against innocent human beings every single day. Yet much of the world reacts to these occasional news stories much like the townspeople of Sighet responded: “What do you expect? That’s war.”

Night begs readers to reject the passive acceptance of suffering and refuse to fall victim to ambivalence and apathy. Instead, Wiesel implores his audience to “take sides” because “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” He has vowed to “never…be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering.”

In this way, Night transcends its historical context and urges humanity to intentionally concern itself with the suffering of marginalized groups throughout the world; as Wiesel so eloquently puts it: “the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”

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