Eliezer’s perspective is a personal one, but it also represents what much likely thought and lived throughout the years of the Holocaust. He loses his home, his family, and eventually, his identity, becoming less human than he thought possible. When he experiences joy and feels free at the death of his father he also feels a new, deep, and defining shame.
’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.’
These lines come from chapter 3 of Night when Elie is learning about the true extent of the horrors at Birkenau/Auschwitz. These lines allude to the crematoriums to which the Jews, including members of Elie’s own family, were taken throughout the Holocaust. They are also a great example of Wiesel’s clear, direct, style of writing. No matter who is speaking, or what they’re speaking about, it’s hard, if not impossible, to misinterpret what is being said. The brutality of these words, and the surety with which they’re spoken, is quite impactful.
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 … 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 … I did not deny God’s existence, but I doubted his absolute justice.
These lines come from the same chapter, 3, of the novel and are some of the best-known and most commonly quoted. The repetition of “Never shall I forget” in these lines informs the reader how truly life-changing this experience was for Wiesel and the other men and women who suffered through it. The theme of ‘never forgetting’ is one that runs through the novel and throughout Wiesel’s other works, and his broader goal to make sure the Holocaust is never forgotten.
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.
In chapter 7, Elie muses on his belief that he, and everyone he’s met in the camps, are going to die before tasting freedom again. They are drained of strength due to the lack of food and medicine they’re received, as well as the horrors and changes they’ve had to endure. They’ve lost so much, and the “night” ( a powerful symbol in the novel) is going to go on forever.
One day I was able to get up, after gathering all my strength. I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. 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.
These lines come from chapter 9 of Night. They are the last lines of the book and clearly depict Wiesel’s sorrow and changed perspective. He looks at himself in a mirror and sees nothing but a corpse. He feels and looks dead, as dead as those he lost over the last months of his life.
I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time.
These lines are found in chapter 4 when Eliezer describes what it was like to live with a constant sense of hopelessness and sorrow. He’s starved in every way that a human being can starve—physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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.
These lines come towards the end of the death march to Buna. Elie’s thoughts allude to the broader experience of all the prisoners forced to endure these horrors. They’ve lost their faith in God and their belief that anyone is going to save them. Eliezer feels alone in the world without anyone to care for him, completely responsible for whether he lives or dies. While faith was an important part of his life before the Holocaust, now it’s an illusion, as the lines that immediately follow this quote state.
Whenever I dreamed of a better world, I could only imagine a universe with no bells.
This sentence can be found in chapter 5 of Night. Here, Eliezer is thinking about the bells that ring throughout camp that signal when a new activity begins. They ring endlessly, Eliezer suggests, controlling everything that happens. They symbolize the lack of control that Eliezer has over his life. There’s nothing he can do without being watched, and no freedom he can enjoy without being punished.
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!
These lines allude to a deeper theme at the heart of this novel, and others that Wiesel published, the relationship between fathers and sons. Here, Eliezer is reacting to the death of his father, who’d just succumbed to dysentery and a beating at the hands of other prisoners. Eliezer felt freedom from the burden of protecting and worrying about his father. But, of course, he felt shame later at the emotional reaction he had. His experiences in the camps had degraded Eliezer’s ability to care about his family as he did before being imprisoned there. For that time, he lost much of what made him human.