Night By Elie WieselAlthough Night is not necessarily a memoir–as discussed in the “OverallAnalysis and Themes” section–I will often refer to it as a memoir, sincethat is the genre which closest approaches the mixture of testimony, depositionand emotional truth-telling that is in Night. Finally: it is clear that Eliezeris meant to serve, to a great extent, as the author Elie Weisel’s surrogate andrepresentative. With alterations of minor details, what happens to Eliezer iswhat 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, aHungarian Jewish teenager. At the book’s opening, Eliezer is studying theCabbala, Jewish mysticism. His instruction is cut short, however, when histeacher, Moche the Beadle, is deported. In a few months, Moche returns, tellinga horrifying tale. The Gestapo (German secret police) had taken charge of histrain, led everybody into the woods, and systematically butchered them. Nobodybelieves Moche, who is taken for a lunatic.
In the spring of 1944, the Nazisoccupy Hungary. Not long afterwards, after a series of increasingly repressivemeasures are passed, the Jews of Eliezer’s town are herded onto cattle cars. Anightmarish journey ensues: after days and nights crammed into the car,exhausted and near starvation, the passengers arrive at Birkenau, the gateway toAuschwitz. On Eliezer’s arrival in Birkenau, he and his father are separatedfrom his mother and sisters, whom they never see again.
They soon endure thefirst of many “selections” that will occur throughout the memoir: theJews are evaluated, to determine whether they should be killed immediately orput to work. Eliezer and his father seem to pass the evaluation, but before theyare brought to the prisoners’ barracks, they stumble upon the open-pit furnaceswhere the Nazis are burning babies by the truckload. The Jewish arrivals arestripped, shaved, and disinfected; throughout, their captors treat them withalmost unimaginable cruelty. Eventually, they are marched from Birkenau to themain camp, Auschwitz itself, and eventually arrive in Buna, a work camp whereEliezer is put to work in an electrical-fittings factory.
Under slave-laborconditions, severely malnourished and decimated by the frequent”selections,” the Jews take solace in caring for each other, inreligion, 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 intocruelty, concerned only with personal survival: sons begin to abandon and abusetheir fathers. Eliezer himself begins to lose his humanity, and his faith. Aftermonths in the camp, Eliezer–poorly clothed in the freezing cold–undergoes anoperation for a foot injury. While he is in the infirmary, however, the Nazisdecide to evacuate the camp because the Russians are advancing, and are on theverge of liberating Buna. In the middle of a snowstorm, the prisoners begin adeath march, forced to run for more than 50 miles to the Gleiwitz concentrationcamp; many die of exposure and exhaustion.
At Gleiwitz, the prisoners are herdedinto cattle cars once again. There is another deadly journey: 100 Jews board thecar, but only twelve remain alive by trip’s end. Throughout the ordeal, Eliezerand his father have kept each other alive through mutual concern: but now, inBuchenwald, Eliezer’s father dies. Eliezer survives in Buchenwald, an emptyshell of a man, until April 11, 1945, when the American army liberates the camp.