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 that closest approaches the mixture of testimony, deposition, and emotional truth-telling that is in Night. It is clear that Eliezer is meant to serve, to a great extent, as the author Elie Wiesel’s surrogate and representative. With alterations of minor details, what happens to Eliezer is what happened to Wiesel 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 Wiesel.
Night is narrated by Eliezer, a Hungarian Jewish teenager. At the book’s opening, Eliezer is studying the Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. However, his instruction is cut short when his teacher, Moche the Beadle, is deported. After a few months, Moche returns and tells a horrifying tale. The Gestapo, the German secret police, had taken charge of his train, led everybody into the woods, and systematically butchered them. Unfortunately, nobody believes Moche, and he is taken for a lunatic.
In the spring of 1944, the Nazis occupied Hungary. Not long afterwards, a series of increasingly repressive measures were passed, and the Jews of Eliezer’s town were herded onto cattle cars. A nightmarish journey ensued. After days and nights crammed into the car, exhausted and near starvation, the passengers arrived at Birkenau, the gateway to Auschwitz. Upon Eliezer’s arrival in Birkenau, he and his father were separated from his mother and sisters, whom they never saw 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. 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 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, religion, and Zionism. However, with the conditions of the camps and the ever-present danger of death, many prisoners 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 faith. After months in the camp, Eliezer undergoes an operation for a foot injury while poorly clothed in the freezing cold. While in the infirmary, the Nazis decide to evacuate the camp because the Russians are advancing and 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. One hundred Jews board the car, but only twelve remain alive by the trip’s end. Throughout the ordeal, Eliezer and his father keep each other alive through mutual concern. However, in Buchenwald, Eliezer’s father dies. Eliezer survives in Buchenwald as an empty shell of a man until April 11, 1945, when the American army liberates the camp.