Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Night eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

One of the most powerful, terrifying, and eviscerating accounts of the Holocaust ever written, Night details the true story of Eliezer Wiesel, a devout teenage Jew who endured the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald and survived to relate his story in lyrical and haunting prose. Wiesel’s testimony begins shortly before his community’s deportation in 1944 and marks time through a series of “nights”—the last night he and his family spend in their home of Sighet corralled in a Jewish ghetto; the last night they spend sealed in a cattle car, the flames of the chimneys licking at the dark sky; the last night before the weak, emaciated prisoners are placed on a frigid death march toward Buchenwald as the Red Army advances upon the barbed wire of Auschwitz; the last night Elie’s father is still with him, alive. 

Hailed as a masterpiece of literature and perhaps the defining work of the genre, Night was originally written in Yiddish as “And the World Remained Silent,” a sprawling 800-page account finished in 1956. After the book was edited, it was translated into French and then into English, but despite tireless efforts by the French writer and Nobel laureate François Mauriac on behalf of Wiesel, not a single publisher accepted the book. It took much cajoling and efforts from Mauriac before Éditions de Minuit agreed to publish Nuit, as it was titled by then, in 1958. This was also when Wiesel’s comprehensive account was further edited into the slim volume we read today. Wiesel writes in the Preface to the New Translation that he accepted the edits having been “more afraid of having said too much than too little.” What is “too personal, too private,” lingers between the lines, more powerful for the omission. Still, the book sold poorly; the world was not yet ready to confront the truth of Nazi genocide or to confront how it was allowed to happen. Night is brutal in this regard. The memoir offers the reader no opportunity to avert his gaze; instead, the reader must face with courage and humble respect the nearly unspeakable horrors Wiesel recreates in its pages. 

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986, the author says it seems like only yesterday “that a young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night.” He discovered the depths of human depravity and evil there, but more importantly, he came to understand a world that knew and did nothing. Where there is injustice, suffering, and humiliation, Wiesel said, “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Wiesel dedicated his life to bearing witness and uncovering complicity in allowing humans to suffer degradation and fear. In addition to writing over fifty books, Wiesel, a professor of the Humanities at Boston University, also helped create the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

Night is a book marked by memory and personal history, an account of one boy’s entering and then emerging from “the Kingdom of Night,” without his family and without a trace of innocence but alive. Beyond his personal story, however, and perhaps even more significantly, Night bears witness to all the lives that were extinguished in the concentration camps; it is a testimony to the lost millions. In its unflagging commitment to the truth and searing devotion to detail, Night makes present and alive the horrors of the Holocaust that cannot be conveyed in the pages of history books. By narrowing his lens to the eyes of one boy, Eliezer—a student of Jewish mysticism from whom faith and family and love itself are torn—Wiesel offers us a rare opportunity to enter the Kingdom of Night so that never again will the world stand by silently and allow such atrocities.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to: 

1. Identify and discuss the different ways in which the theme of “night” is developed literally and metaphorically. 

2. Explain how the memoir addresses themes related to witnessing, silence, and death. 

3. Identify father-son relationships in the memoir and explain how and why they shift. 

4. Identify the various “prophets” that appear in the memoir and explain how the prophets relate to truth. 

5. Explain how the author delivers the memoir’s message through metaphor. 

6. Describe and trace the evolution of Eliezer’s faith and his relationship with God. 

7. Discuss how various characters experience a crisis of faith. 

8. Identify and describe the transformation of men into beasts and explain the root causes behind these crises of humanity. 

9. Identify the motifs of fire and smoke in the text and describe how they contribute to the memoir.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom. 

Student Study Guide 

• The Study Guide is organized for a section-by-section study of the memoir. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace. 

• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in each section and to acquaint them generally with the section’s content. 

• Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension. 

• Study Guide vocabulary lists include words from the memoir that vary in difficulty. 

1. The vocabulary lists for each section are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them. 

2. Working from the lesson plan’s vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each section that are most appropriate for them. 

Discussion Questions 

The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty. 

1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry. 

2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion. 

Multiple-Choice/Essay Test 

Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty. 

1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the memoir; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences. 

2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the memoir. 

3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.

Before students read through the book, explain that themes are universal ideas developed in literature. Point out that these themes will be developed in the memoir; discuss them with students as they read and/or after they finish reading. 

  • Death 
  • Night 
  • Truth (facts; statistics; historical accuracy) 
  • Bearing witness 
  • Evil/brutality 
  • Inhumanity (literal and metaphorical) 
  • Freedom 
  • Dignity 
  • Innocence 
  • Repression/control/structure 
  • Madness vs. sanity 
  • Silence 
  • Hunger 
  • Faith/crisis of faith 
  • The body vs. intellect 
  • Damnation/redemption 

Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or a repeated action, element, or idea in a book. As they read, have them look for the following motifs: 

  • Prophets/prophecy 
  • Fire/flame 
  • Smoke 
  • Night/darkness 
  • Jewish prayer/ritual/holidays 
  • Father-son relationships (including God-human) 
  • Bodies/body parts 
  • Bread 
  • Work 

A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have students discuss how the author develops the following symbols and what ideas the symbols could suggest. Have them look for other symbols on their own. 

  • Yellow stars 
  • The violin 
  • Bells 
  • Chimneys 
  • Trains/convoys 
  • Andy’s rock

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Compare and contrast Night with The Diary of Anne Frank. How does each approach the subject of the Holocaust? Drawing examples from each text, explain the intended effect each work means to evoke in the reader.

2. Finding someone willing to publish Night after it was translated was difficult, and when it was published in 1958, the public did not readily embrace the memoir. Why might the book not have been accepted? Night is now a required text in many schools and considered a great literary work. What do you think has changed since 1958 that might explain the shift?

3. Explain reasons why the author inserts the occasional narrative parenthetical comment in the text. What perspective do the comments add to the text? Identify at least two instances where these comments occur, and explain how they contribute to the author’s narration of events in the text.

4. Though his father says Elie is not ready, Moishe the Beadle is willing to study and discuss Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, with him. Describe how the relationship between Moishe and Eliezer develops and ends. Why does Wiesel begin his memoir with Moishe the Beadle?

5. Wiesel writes that above the iron gate at Auschwitz was inscribed: ARBEIT MACHT FREI. How does the inscription translate, and what meaning does it have in the text?

6. Describe the various occasions on which Elie and his family are warned regarding the Germans’ actions toward the Jews. Why do they not avail themselves of the opportunity to escape? What part does disbelief or denial play in their choices? Do the identities of those who warn them make a difference?

7. Explain the meaning and significance of this passage:

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...

(The entire section is 683 words.)

Section One


anti-Semitic: marked by hatred of or discrimination against Jews

beadle: Jewish a religious official

billeted: housed

cattle cars: train cars used to carry livestock or freight

comprehend: to understand

conflagration: a fire, a blaze

death’s-head emblem: (Totenkopf in German) an emblem consisting of a skull and mandible of a skeleton with two crossed femur bones underneath used by German forces throughout history including the Nazi SS

decree: to issue a ruling or proclamation

deportees: deported or exiled people

emigration: the leaving of one’s country to settle elsewhere

err: to make a mistake


(The entire section is 2449 words.)

Section Two


abyss: a void, a chasm

economize: to scrimp, to save

hermetically sealed: closed off in an airtight manner

inhibitions: reservations about engaging in certain behavior

intolerable: unbearable

irrevocably: permanently

lethal: deadly

pious: devout, religious

suffocating: smothering

wretched: horrible, vile

Study Questions

1. What are the conditions inside the cattle car?

The people are unbearably thirsty and hungry, and the air is stifling. The car is so crowded people have to take turns to sit down. Some young people caress each other.

2. What do they realize...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

Section Three


antechamber: an entrance

ascertain: to determine

baton: a stick

Blockälteste: German a block leader

colic: indigestion

colossus: a giant

crematorium: an oven built to incinerate bodies

Dr. Mengele: a doctor and SS officer known as the “Angel of Death” who helped select those destined to die and also performed cruel and bizarre medical experiments on the prisoners

eluded: escaped from

garb: clothing

harangued: berated, lectured

imperative: critical, necessary

invectives: attacks, curses

Kapo: a concentration camp prisoner designated as a supervisor by the SS


(The entire section is 1709 words.)

Section Four


altruistic: selfless

Appelplatz: German a place to assemble for roll call in the concentration camps

Aryan: belonging to a subgroup of non-Jewish, Caucasian people of European descent

cauldrons: large, heavy cooking pots

conscientious: careful, thorough

copulate: to have sex

dissipated: lessened

epidemic: a widespread occurrence of infectious disease in a community

famished: extremely hungry

gallows: a structure from which a person is hanged

gaping: hanging open

ghastly: awful

imprudent: unwise, foolish

infirmary: a ward or barrack where the sick are kept and treated


(The entire section is 1423 words.)

Section Five


agitated: worked up

benediction: a blessing

chinks: cracks, weak places

crucible: center of combat or other extreme activity

deluded: fooled

dysentery: an infection of the intestines causing fever and diarrhea

emaciated: extremely thin and malnourished, gaunt

glacial: incredibly cold, frigid

grandeur: splendor

inflection: nuance

knell: the tolling of a bell

lament: to cry, to mourn

masquerade: a costume ball

Muselman: slang the camp inmates’ word for an extremely weak or frail inmate

officiating: leading the proceedings

prophecies: predictions

spunk: spirit


(The entire section is 1202 words.)

Section Six


automatons: robots, machines

disheveled: rumpled, out of order

faltering: stumbling

poignant: touching, emotional

Study Questions

1. What do the soldiers do to prisoners that cannot sustain the pace during the march?

The soldiers shoot them like “filthy dogs.”

2. Previously, Elie describes himself as a non-thinking body, reduced to a stomach. Now he says he hates his body and that he “couldn’t help thinking that there were two of” them, he and his body. Why does Elie now identify with his mind instead of his body?

His body is weak and emaciated; it is failing, but his will to live is...

(The entire section is 659 words.)

Section Seven


apathy: indifference

decaying: rotting, breaking down

dregs: residue

ensued: began

grimace: a pained facial expression, a frown

spectacle: an unusual event or sight

Study Questions

1. What happens to cause Elie to say “there was no longer any reason to live, any reason to fight”?

He cannot get his father to respond to him and believes he is dead.

2. Why does Elie strike his father?

He attempts to wake his father in order to save him from being thrown out into the field with the dead bodies.

3. Describe the conditions of the prisoners on the train. What is...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Section Eight


curtly: rudely, brusquely

feeble: weak

jostle: to push, to shove

plaintive: pleading

prostrate: lying flat face down

Study Questions

1. Describe the shift in the relationship between Elie and his father when they arrive at Buchenwald. What is his father’s condition? What does Elie realize about his father?

Elie is the responsible parent figure, while his father “had become childlike: weak, frightened, vulnerable.” When they are given the opportunity to take a shower, his father can only sit; he is so exhausted, he begs Elie to allow him to stay still. Then Elie realizes he is arguing “with Death itself, with Death...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Section Nine


idleness: inactivity

provisions: supplies; stored food

Study Questions

1. How long is Elie at Buchenwald? How does he describe his life while he is there?

Elie is at Buchenwald from approximately mid-January until April 11. He doesn’t describe his life there at all because “it no longer mattered.”

2. Who takes control of the camp before the Americans arrive? What occurs at that time?

The resistance movement within the prison population takes control of the camp, and the SS troops flee: “Armed men appeared from everywhere. Bursts of gunshots. Grenades exploding.”

3. What do the...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. What occurred on January 29, 1945?

A. Elie and his father were liberated.

B. Elie’s father died.

C. The war ended.

D. Buna was bombed.

E. The Russians overran the German lines.

2. “The cold was conscientiously doing its work” is an example of

A. simile.

B. synesthesia.

C. personification.

D. irony.

E. allegory.

3. Who is the only one to have “kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people,” according to Elie’s neighbor in the infirmary?

A. God...

(The entire section is 794 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Insanity is a major theme in Night. Explain how it is developed through various characters, and discuss how it relates to the motif of prophecy and to the Holocaust itself. Support your discussion with examples from the text.

The theme of insanity is explored in depth in Night. A strong sense of insanity permeates the narrative generally because the Holocaust itself was conceived in madness. Wiesel says that as late as 1944 even the Jews “doubted [Hitler’s] resolve to exterminate” them, the news too far-fetched: “Annihilate an entire people? Wipe out a population dispersed through so many nations? By what means? In the middle of the twentieth century?” The very idea was insane, but when it was...

(The entire section is 3541 words.)