Why did Elie Wiesel write Night?
After a decade of silence regarding his experiences during the Holocaust, Wiesel wrote Un di Velt Hot Geshvign which, two years and many revisions later, became the novel Night. Wiesel explains in his Preface to the text’s 2006 translation that despite his struggle to put the horrors he experienced into words, he felt a moral obligation to do so. To let the memories of the Holocaust fade from the world’s collective consciousness, he argues, is to allow the enemy a victory and to metaphorically kill those who perished for a second time. Similar to Moishe’s perspective in the novel, the desire to protect his people and raise awareness of the crimes committed against them inspired Wiesel to share his story.
How does Wiesel characterize himself/Eliezer in the novel?
Although Eliezer is not a completely autobiographical character, Wiesel does imbue his work’s protagonist with many of the same thoughts and feelings that he personally experienced during the war. One central characteristic that Wiesel emphasizes throughout is Eliezer’s perpetual sense of internal conflict. From the moment he leaves Sighet, Eliezer struggles to reconcile his faith in God with the horrors around him, his love for his father with his guilt over failing to defend him, and his will to live with the pull of death. Highlighting these layers of turmoil allows Eliezer to represent the instability and indefinability of Wiesel’s worldview, both during and in the aftermath of the war. As Wiesel struggled to put his experiences into words, Eliezer must contend with the jarring disparities between his beliefs and his tragic reality.
What is the significance of the novel’s first-person point of view?
Given the novel’s memoir-like quality, Wiesel’s use of first-person narration seems like an obvious choice. This choice, however, has a significant impact on the way in which the narrative of the Holocaust comes across to readers. Rather than painting a broad picture to communicate the horrifically massive scale of the Nazi’s attack on the Jewish community, Wiesel’s use of a narrow first-person point of view allows him to emphasize the humanity of each individual who perished in the tragedy. Eliezer’s perspective, while limited, is deeply intimate and invites readers to immerse themselves in his world, an effect that would be much more difficult to achieve through third-person narration. Wiesel ultimately challenges the distance between readers and more broadly expressed accounts of the Holocaust by offering such a subjective and personal point of view.
What does night symbolize?
Night symbolizes the utter despair and painful suffering that Eliezer and the rest of the prisoners endure under the wrath of the Nazis. Some of the novel’s most difficult moments, including Eliezer’s arrival at Birkenau, the prisoners’ snowy march from Buna, and Shlomo’s death, occur during the night, the literal darkness mirroring the emotional darkness that these events elicit. From a spiritual perspective, night also symbolizes the absence of God’s light and goodness from the world. This interpretation aligns with Eliezer’s struggle to maintain his faith in God as he watches acts of pure evil occur every day in the concentration camps.
What gives Eliezer the strength to survive the Holocaust?
For many of the characters in Night, the will and strength to live comes from a deep devotion to something beyond their individual selves, particularly God or family. When this sense of purpose disappears, however, death seems to quickly follow suit. Akiba Drumer fits this pattern when he dies after losing his faith in God, as does Meir Katz when he finally lets himself mourn the death of his son. Eliezer, however, survives by focusing on his relationship with his father. Even though he senses the allure of death as the prisoners run through the snow, his commitment to his father stops him from succumbing to fatigue, starvation, and despair.
What happens when Moishe is deported from Sighet?
Moishe the Beadle is among the first group of people that the Hungarian police expel from Sighet as he is a “foreign Jew.” After leaving the village in a packed cattle car, no one hears from Moishe again until he reappears months later to recount his experiences and warn his neighbors. He explains to Eliezer that the police transported the deportees to a Polish forest and forced them to dig massive trenches before shooting and killing them all one by one. Moishe, having escaped death after suffering a leg injury, tries to warn the Jews of Sighet of the imminent dangers they face to no avail. The tragedy that Moishe experiences in Poland foreshadows the horrors that will continue to unfold throughout the remainder of the novel.
What does Madame Schächter’s nightmare foreshadow?
As the prisoners from Sighet ride in packed cattle cars toward Birkenau, Madame Schächter has several outbursts in which she screams about a fire and points out the window. Her young son first tries to calm her, but only a group of men beating, binding, and gagging her can quiet her hysterics. While her early warnings of fire occur when no real flames are present, her final cries occur as the prisoners arrive in Birkenau and come face to face with the flames rising from the crematorium into the night. Madame Schächter becomes a prophetic figure rather than the grieving madwoman that her fellow prisoners see her as, her nightmarish visions becoming a reality. She senses the violent destruction that awaits them in the hell-on-earth that the Nazis created for them. Given the symbolism of both fire and night in the novel, the fact that Madame Schächter’s screams of fire occur in the darkness of nighttime also foreshadows the intersection of the Nazis’ cruel power, the prisoners’ endless suffering, and questions regarding God’s role in the tragedy.
Why does Eliezer lie to Stein about his family?
Not long after the prisoners’ arrival at Auschwitz, Eliezer and his father meet Stein, a relative from Mrs. Wiesel’s side of the family. Having been separated from his wife and sons in Antwerp in 1942, he begs Eliezer and his father for any information they have regarding his family’s fate. Eliezer lies and tells Stein that his mother received word that they were all safe when, in reality, he knows nothing at all. The joy and relief that Stein expresses upon hearing this news offers an insight as to why Eliezer made this choice: he could not bear to be responsible for destroying another man’s will to live. Knowing the importance of family bonds, Eliezer lies to keep Stein’s belief in his family alive. When a transport arrives from Antwerp and Stein never returns to visit the Wiesels, Eliezer assumes that his relative learned the truth of his family’s fate.
How does Idek treat the camp’s prisoners?
Idek is the Kapo for the Kommando that Eliezer and his father find themselves in upon arriving at Buna. Although Juliek, a musician, warns Eliezer of their supervisor’s outbursts, he is still in shock when Idek violently attacks him in the warehouse where they work. He also beats Shlomo with an iron bar and publicly lashes Eliezer with a whip as punishment for walking in on him having sex with a young Polish girl. Given that Idek is a prisoner himself, it appears that he uses the little power he has to express his resentment toward his situation, inflicting a degree pain on others even greater than what he experienced personally.
What does Eliezer learn when he reconnects with the French woman from the electrical warehouse years after the war?
In the novel’s only scene describing events that occur after the war, Eliezer recognizes a French woman on the Métro in Paris from his days working at an electrical warehouse in Buna. The woman, who remains nameless, offered him care and a crust of bread after Idek attacked him. Despite appearing to only know French, the woman also spoke to him, imploring him to keep his strength up, in near-perfect German. Wiesel’s choice to include the scene of the pair’s reunion years later serves as a powerful image of perseverance, but it also works to highlight the sense of trust and compassion that can emerge in the wake of mutual suffering. Eliezer learns that the French woman, a devout Jew who passed as an Aryan, risked her safety by speaking to him in German because she knew he would not betray her. Her admission of trust is extremely telling, especially since the two were complete strangers. Gaining this information years later helps both Eliezer and the reader contextualize the woman’s behavior in the warehouse, revealing a comforting spark of light among an otherwise dark and hellish landscape.
How does Zalman die?
Zalman is a devout boy from Poland whom Eliezer knows from working in Buna’s electrical factory. During their run from Buna to Gleiwitz, the two boys find themselves running alongside each other. Zalman, visibly struggling to keep up his pace, whispers to Eliezer that his stomach aches and that he feels as though he cannot continue running. While Eliezer attempts to respond with words of support, Zalman quickly drops his pants and collapses into the snow. The mass of people running behind him presumably tramples him to death, rather than an SS officer shooting him. As disturbing as Eliezer finds this image, he admits to quickly forgetting Zalman as his focus returns to his own survival.
What does Rabbi Eliahou’s son do to his father?
After the prisoners stop to rest in an abandoned village during their run from Buna, Eliezer speaks to Rabbi Eliahou as he desperately searches for his missing son. Eliezer tells him that he does not know anything about his son’s whereabouts, but he realizes after the fact that had seen the rabbi’s son recently. Eliezer remembers Rabbi Eliahou’s son running next to him during their trek from Buna as the rabbi himself slowed down and fell to the back of the pack. Knowing that the son had seen his father losing ground, Eliezer comes to the jarring realization that Rabbi Eliahou’s son may have intentionally left his father behind to die in an attempt to make his own survival easier. Eliezer finds this conscious act of abandonment particularly distressing and begins to pray that he will never treat his own father in that way.
What does Juliek’s violin represent?
Juliek’s violin, along with his nighttime concert in the barrack at Gleiwitz, is a powerful symbol of resistance against the Nazis dehumanizing treatment of the prisoners. Given that music is a powerful form of self-expression, Juliek’s violin makes it possible for him to assert his presence, emphasize his humanity, and mourn his impending death, all without a single word. He breaks the literal silence of the snowy night in the barrack as well as the cultural silence that the Nazis attempt to force on Jews by playing his violin. Of course, Eliezer finds Juliek dead and his violin destroyed the next morning, a haunting image which suggests the sacrifice inherent in such an act of rebellion.
How does Eliezer’s father die?
After the prisoners’ trek through the snow to Buchenwald, Eleizer’s father feels incredibly weak and yearns to rest in the snow. Eliezer implores him not to but realizes that his father has already chosen death. Shlomo quickly develops dysentery, becoming feverish and struggling to breathe. The doctors refuse to offer him any care, and the other sick inmates beat him and take his rations. He continually calls out to Eliezer, begging for water and imploring that he take pity on him, and receives a violent beating from an SS officer in response. Shlomo is alive when Eliezer goes to sleep on January 28, but his father’s body has vanished when he wakes up on January 29. Eliezer assumes that the officers took his father, who may have still been breathing, to the crematorium in the middle of the night.
How does Eliezer’s relationship with God change throughout the novel?
Although Eliezer never fully rejects his belief in the very existence of God, the once devout student of faith does face significant challenges to his belief system as a result of his experiences in the concentration camps. Eliezer begins the novel as a deeply observant Jew interested in studying Kabbalah, but after watching the Hungarian police destroy his place of worship, being forced into a packed cattle car, and seeing infants burn in the crematorium’s flames, he begins to resent God’s silence. He does not understand why God allowed these events to happen. By the time the prisoners move to Auschwitz’s main camp, Eliezer ceases to pray and questions God’s divine justice. He sees the benevolent God he used to believe in hanging from the gallows alongside the young boy who dies there, suggesting the end of God as he once understood him. By the time Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur arrive, Eliezer is so disillusioned that he angrily challenges notions God’s power and believes that He is no longer present in his world. Alongside Eliezer’s growing desire to rebel against God, he feels “a great void opening” in his spirit, one which never truly refills.