What happens in Night?
Elie Wiesel meets Moshe the Beadle in Sighet, Romania in 1941. With Moshe's guidance, Elie begins studying the Torah and Jewish mysticism, but his faith is tested when police deport Moshe to Poland. On the way there, the Germans stop the train car and massacre the passengers. Moshe manages to escape and tell the people of Sighet about the Gestapo, but no one believes his tales of horror.
- In 1944, the Nazis start targeting the Jews of Sighet. Elie and his family are brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Elie’s mother and sister are sent to the gas chambers. Elie and his father are selected for forced labor.
- Elie and the other prisoners in the concentration camp are forced to work under inhumane conditions, subsisting on bowls of thin, nutritionless soup. Elie witnesses unspeakable horrors, including the hanging of a child.
- When news of the Soviet's army's approach reaches the concentration camp, the Nazi officers lead Elie and the other prisoner in a death march. Elie's father, weakened by hard labor and the lack of food, dies shortly after the march. Elie is freed in April of 1945.
At the beginning of Night, Wiesel introduces someone he met toward the end of 1941. His name was Moshe, and he became one of the boy’s teachers. They discussed religious topics, and one day they talked about prayer. Wiesel asked Moshe why he prayed, and his teacher replied that he prayed for strength to ask God the right questions. Later, the Hungarian police deported Moshe from Sighet, Wiesel’s hometown, because he was a foreigner. His destination was Poland and death at the hands of the Germans, but somehow Moshe escaped and found his way back to Sighet. The Jews of Sighet did not believe his tale of destruction.
Although the Holocaust was raging all around them, the Hungarian Jews were not decimated until 1944. Their lives began to change drastically, however, once the Germans occupied Hungary that March. In a matter of days, Sighet’s Jews had to deal with quarantines, expropriations of their property, and the yellow stars that targeted them. Then they were ghettoized and deported. Jammed into train cars, destination unknown, the Jews of Sighet—Elie Wiesel, his little sister, Tzipora, and their parents among them—eventually crossed the Polish frontier and arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Emerging from their train-car prisons into midnight air fouled by burning flesh, the Jews of Sighet were separated by the secret police: men to the left, women to the right. Wiesel lost sight of his mother and little sister, not fully aware that the parting was forever. Father and son stuck together. Spared the fate of Wiesel’s mother and sister, they were not “selected” for the gas chambers but for slave labor instead. From late May, 1944, until mid-January, 1945, Wiesel and his father endured Auschwitz’s brutal regimen. As the Red Army approached the camp, the two were evacuated to Germany. Severely weakened by the death march to Buchenwald, Wiesel’s father perished there, but the son was liberated on April 11, 1945.
Night covers in detail these events, but it is much more than a chronological narrative. The power of this memoir emerges especially from the anguished questions that Wiesel’s Holocaust experiences will not put to rest. Before he entered Auschwitz, Wiesel “believed profoundly.” Yet on that fateful night, and in the days that followed, his world changed forever. Optimism about humankind, trust in the world, confidence in God—Auschwitz radically threatened, if it did not destroy, so many reasons for hope.
This point is illustrated especially well by one of the book’s most unforgettable moments. Wiesel describes the hanging of three Auschwitz prisoners—one of them a child. As the prisoners watched the child die, Wiesel heard a man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?” Wiesel writes that “from within me. I heard a voice answer: ’Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows.’”
(The entire section is 2,241 words.)