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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

“I was saved miraculously. I succeeded in coming back. Where did I get my strength? I wanted to return to Sighet to describe to you my death so that you might ready yourselves while there is still time. Life? I no longer care to live. I am alone. But I wanted to come back to warn you. Only no one is listening to me…” 

Early in the narrative, the townspeople of Sighet are afforded an incredible and potentially life-saving perspective. Moishe the Beadle is one of the first of their neighbors to be deported because he is a “foreign” Jew. Surprisingly, those who are left behind quickly forget the deportees and even dismiss their expulsion from the town as an unavoidable byproduct of war. When Moishe the Beadle returns, however, his testimony should have been a compelling warning. He describes watching his fellow deportees digging their own graves and then being shot. He recalls witnessing Jewish infants being tossed into the air and used as target practice. 

Unfortunately, the people of Sighet ridicule Moishe the Beadle; some believe that he invents the stories for pity, while still others conclude that he has simply gone mad. With the privilege of historical knowledge, it is clear that many of these people could have been saved if they had listened to these dire warnings. Their desire to continue with life as “normal” prevented them from recognizing the precarious position they were in.

But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…

And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

“For God’s sake, where is God?”

And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

“Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…”

That night, the soup tasted of corpses. 

When Eliezer is forced to witness the execution of a child, his faith in God plummets. The child is accused of participating in a rebellion against the SS, and he is condemned to be hanged for his “crimes.” While the bodies of the adults are heavy enough to expedite their deaths by hanging, the young child’s weight is too light for such a merciful ending. Instead, he struggles and writhes at the end of a rope for nearly thirty minutes while his life slowly and painfully ends. Eliezer, who has already been struggling with God’s presence in the midst of such suffering in the concentration camps, cannot reconcile the characteristics of the God he has always believed in with a God who would allow the agonizing death of an innocent child.

What are You, my God? I thought angrily. How do You compare this stricken mass gathered to affirm to You their faith, their anger, their defiance? What does Your grandeur mean, Master of the Universe, in the face of all this cowardice, this decay, and this misery? Why do you go on troubling these poor people’s wounded minds, their ailing bodies? 

On Rosh Hashanah, Eliezer and his fellow prisoners gather to celebrate the end of the Jewish year. Eliezer finds that the moment feels particularly “tense” as they consider the implications of the “last” day of the year; their lives hang in a delicate balance, and any given day could be the “last” they experience. As they gather for prayer, Eliezer grows furious toward God; internally, he questions how God can be both omnipotent and allow evil to flourish around him. He finds it difficult to praise God’s goodness while he watches his fellow Jews being sent to the furnaces daily. At the conclusion of the service, Eliezer locates his father, and the two share a moment of mutual understanding of the “defeat” they both feel.

When I came down from my bunk after roll call, I could see his lips trembling; he was murmuring something. I remained more than an hour leaning over him, looking at him, etching his bloody, broken face into my mind.

Then I had to go to sleep. I climbed into my bunk, above my father, who was still alive. The date was January 28, 1945.

I woke up at dawn on January 29. On my father’s cot there lay another sick person. They must have taken him away before daybreak and taken him to a crematorium. Perhaps he was still breathing… 

Together, Eliezer and his father have survived starvation, physical abuse, and grueling physical labor; their mutual loyalty has been a source of inspiration during some of their darkest moments. After enduring so much, Eliezer’s father has reached his physical limits. He falls ill and is then beaten by other patients and an SS officer. After attempting to meet his father’s needs as best as possible with extremely limited resources, Eliezer falls asleep; during the night, his father is taken away. Horrifically, he can’t even be sure that his father was truly dead before he was taken to the crematorium; this uncertainty reflects the inhumanity Eliezer experienced so often and his faith that the SS had absolutely no respect for the lives of Jewish people.

One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto.

From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me.

The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me. 

As the narrative concludes, it presents a portrait of Eliezer as he examines himself in a mirror. Night itself is a mirror of one child’s perspective of surviving the concentration camps, whose purpose was to annihilate the entire Jewish population. The work doesn’t explore other experiences and themes because those would be reflected in other literary “mirrors.” Eliezer is a shadow of his former self, a walking “corpse” who will forever bear the scars of the cumulative losses he has endured.

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