Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


Fire appears throughout Night as a symbol of the Nazis’ cruel power. On the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Madame Schächter receives a vision of fire that serves as a premonition of the horror to come. Eliezer also sees the Nazis burning babies in a ditch. Most important, fire is the agent of destruction in the crematoria, where many meet their death at the hands of the Nazis.

The role of fire as a Nazi weapon reverses the role fire plays in the Bible and Jewish tradition. In the Bible, fire is associated with God and divine wrath. God appears to Moses as a burning bush, and vengeful angels wield flaming swords. In postbiblical literature, flame also is a force of divine retribution. In Gehenna—the Jewish version of Hell—the wicked are punished by fire. But in Night, it is the wicked who wield the power of fire, using it to punish the innocent. Such a reversal demonstrates how the experience of the Holocaust has upset Eliezer’s entire concept of the universe, especially his belief in a benevolent, or even just, God.


The Bible begins with God’s creation of the earth. When God first begins his creation, the earth is “without form, and void; and darkness [is] upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2, King James Version). God’s first act is to create light and dispel this darkness. Darkness and night therefore symbolize a world without God’s presence. In Night, Wiesel exploits this allusion. Night always occurs when suffering is worst, and its presence reflects Eliezer’s belief that he lives in a world without God. The first time Eliezer mentions that “[n]ight fell” is when his father is interrupted while telling stories and informed about the deportation of Jews. Similarly, it is night when Eliezer first arrives at Birkenau/Auschwitz, and it is night—specifically “pitch darkness”—when the prisoners begin their horrible run from Buna.


During his time in the concentration camps, Eliezer comes into contact with different forms of music, all of which stir his emotions despite his overall sense of emptiness. The prisoners’ music, ranging from hymns to violin concertos, serves as a source of inspiration for Eliezer and uplifts his spirits. As a form of non-verbal expression, music allows both the musician and the listener to tap into their feelings without having to explicitly identify or understand them. These qualities ultimately allow the prisoners’ music to serve as a powerful symbol of resistance, one which asserts their humanity even when they lack the words to do so. The fact that the Nazis use music as a method of control within the camp, namely the military marches and the ringing bell, adds to the significance of the prisoners’ melodic rebellions. Pushing back against the music of their oppressors with music of their own offers the prisoners some semblance of personal agency and challenges the power dynamic between them.

Although Eliezer is never the one to initiate a musical act of rebellion, he does identify with and embrace the sense of humanity that they evoke. In Section 4, he works alongside two boys with an extensive knowledge of Hebrew songs, and together they “hum melodies evoking the gentle waters of the Jordan River and the majestic sanctity of Jerusalem.” Not only does this act resist the Nazis’ attempt to eliminate Jewish culture, but the songs’ “gentle” and “majestic” imagery uplift the boys in spite of their demeaning forced labor. Perhaps the most significant appearance of music, however, occurs in Section 6 when Juliek plays his violin in the middle of the night. He plays a Beethoven concerto, a piece that the Nazi’s forbade Jews to play, and Eliezer explains that “it was as if Juliek’s soul had become his bow.” In this moment of both literal and metaphorical darkness, the violin allows Juliek to defiantly assert his humanity by giving him a voice. He pushes back against the cultural silence that the Nazis aim to create through the destruction of the Jewish community by breaking the literal silence of the night with his music. Although Eliezer finds him dead and his violin broken the next day, Juliek’s midnight concert serves as a powerful symbol of rebellion.