Night By Elie Wiesel
Although Night is not necessarily a memoir–as discussed in the “Overall
Analysis and Themes” section–I will often refer to it as a memoir, since
that is the genre which closest approaches the mixture of testimony, deposition
and emotional truth-telling that is in Night. Finally: it is clear that Eliezer
is meant to serve, to a great extent, as the author Elie Weisel’s surrogate and
representative. With alterations of minor details, what happens to Eliezer is
what happened to Weisel himself during the Holocaust.
Please bear in mind,
however, that there is a difference between the persona of Night’s narrator,
Eliezer, and that of the author, Elie Weisel. Night is narrated by Eliezer, a
Hungarian Jewish teenager. At the book’s opening, Eliezer is studying the
Cabbala, Jewish mysticism. His instruction is cut short, however, when his
teacher, Moche the Beadle, is deported.
In a few months, Moche returns, telling
a horrifying tale. The Gestapo (German secret police) had taken charge of his
train, led everybody into the woods, and systematically butchered them. Nobody
believes Moche, who is taken for a lunatic. In the spring of 1944, the Nazis
Not long afterwards, after a series of increasingly repressive
measures are passed, the Jews of Eliezer’s town are herded onto cattle cars. A
nightmarish journey ensues: after days and nights crammed into the car,
exhausted and near starvation, the passengers arrive at Birkenau, the gateway to
Auschwitz. On Eliezer’s arrival in Birkenau, he and his father are separated
from his mother and sisters, whom they never see again. They soon endure the
first of many “selections” that will occur throughout the memoir: the
Jews are evaluated, to determine whether they should be killed immediately or
put to work.
Eliezer and his father seem to pass the evaluation, but before they
are brought to the prisoners’ barracks, they stumble upon the open-pit furnaces
where the Nazis are burning babies by the truckload. The Jewish arrivals are
stripped, shaved, and disinfected; throughout, their captors treat them with
almost unimaginable cruelty. Eventually, they are marched from Birkenau to the
main camp, Auschwitz itself, and eventually arrive in Buna, a work camp where
Eliezer is put to work in an electrical-fittings factory. Under slave-labor
conditions, severely malnourished and decimated by the frequent
“selections,” the Jews take solace in caring for each other, in
religion, and in Zionism.
But with the conditions of the camps, and the ever-
present danger of death, many of the prisoners themselves begin to slide into
cruelty, concerned only with personal survival: sons begin to abandon and abuse
their fathers. Eliezer himself begins to lose his humanity, and his faith. After
months in the camp, Eliezer–poorly clothed in the freezing cold–undergoes an
operation for a foot injury. While he is in the infirmary, however, the Nazis
decide to evacuate the camp because the Russians are advancing, and are on the
verge of liberating Buna.
In the middle of a snowstorm, the prisoners begin a
death march, forced to run for more than 50 miles to the Gleiwitz concentration
camp; many die of exposure and exhaustion. At Gleiwitz, the prisoners are herded
into cattle cars once again. There is another deadly journey: 100 Jews board the
car, but only twelve remain alive by trip’s end. Throughout the ordeal, Eliezer
and his father have kept each other alive through mutual concern: but now, in
Buchenwald, Eliezer’s father dies.
Eliezer survives in Buchenwald, an empty
shell of a man, until April 11, 1945, when the American army liberates the camp.