Elie Wiesel is one of the most famous survivors of the Holocaust genocide during World War II. He drew from his personal experiences to write autobiographical novels and stories. Night is just one book for which he is known, but it’s also probably the most famous (partly because it was chosen for the Oprah Book Club).
In Night, he speaks of war, violence, and death. It’s all tied together as dehumanization strips away the very last hope.
“What can we expect? It’s war…” he says in Chapter 1.
With Night, he has “come back… to tell you the story of my death.” It’s a way to tell us the truths of life and death — before it’s “too late”…
Like a play, he draws us onto the stage of the Holocaust experience, drawing out the symbols that represent everything that will lead to death:
- “The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don’t die of it.” (Ch. 1)
- “A prolonged whistle split the air. The wheels began to grind. We were on our way.” (Ch. 1)
- “The doors were nailed up; the way back was finally cut off. The world was a cattle wagon hermetically sealed.” (Ch. 1)
After being carted off like animals, they are further dehumanized, separated from their families — mother and father:
- “Men to the left! Women to the right!” (Ch. 1)
- “Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother.” (Ch. 1)
The concentration camps could not be considered bearable, though, or even survivable, even if they’d each been able to hold family close. Ever present, they could see the ovens; and they came to know what the flames and billowing smoke would mean. As Wiesel writes:
- “Do you see that chimney over there? See it? Do you see those flames? (Yes, we did see the flames.) Over there that’s where you’re going to be taken. That’s your grave, over there.” (Ch. 3)
Night speaks of death, but it also speaks of remembrance and the curse of night.
- “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.” (Ch. 3)
- “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.” (Ch. 3)
The experience in the camps changed everything, challenging faith and science. Everything was metamorphosed, but the emerging thing was more of a soulless thing, a shadow of the former man.
- “The night was gone. The morning star was shining in the sky. I, too, had become a completely different person. The student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in flames. There remained only a shape that looked like me. A dark flame had entered into my soul and devoured it.” (Ch. 3)
- “I did not deny God’s existence, but I doubted His absolute justice.” (Ch. 3)
- “I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time.” (Ch. 4)
- “Keep your anger and hatred for another day, for later on. The day will come, but not now.” (Ch. 4)
In remembering things past, there’s also a succession of events — making up days and nights — in the old life and the new night. The
- “Yet another last night. The last night at home, the last night in the ghetto, the last night in the train, and, now, the last night in Buna. How much longer were our lives to be dragged out from one ‘last night’ to another?” (Ch 5)
- “We were masters of nature, masters of the world. We had forgotten everything–death, fatigue, our natural needs. Stronger than cold or hunger, stronger than the shots and the desire to die, condemned and wandering, mere numbers, we were the only men on earth.” (Ch 5)
- “I shall always remember that smile. From which world did it come?” (Ch 6)
- “How could I forget that concert, given to an audience of dying and dead men!”
Then, Night brings us back to the darkness… an explanation for the “alone” — from Chapter 1.
- “When they withdrew, next to me were two corpses, side by side, the father and the son. I was fifteen years old.” (Ch 7)
- “We were all going to die here. All limits had been passed. No one had any strength left. And again the night would be long.” (Ch 7)
- “But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched it, I might perhaps have found something like-free at last!” (Ch 8)
- “After my father’s death, nothing could touch me any more.” (Ch 9)
- “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.” (Ch 9)
He’s already dead. The Holocaust ended him. He’s left alone, a dead man walking. As he wrote in Chapter 1:
- “I’m alone. No, I wanted to come back, and to warn you. And see how it is, no one will listen to me.”