The novel is only 100 pages in length, but its impact has been long-lasting. Wiesel engages in some of his most poignant themes in Night. These include father/son relationships, death, and the loss of religion. The values that he and his family hold dear start to fall apart almost as soon as the novel begins. Eventually, Eliezer realizes that in this new world, it’s going to be an incredibly hard task to remain the person he was and care for his father as he’d like to.
‘Spoiler Free’ Night Summary
Night follows the terrifying journey of Eliezer and his family from their home in Sighet in Hungarian Transylvania through the ghettos and concentration camps of the Holocaust. While at first, no one believed that something like the murder of innocent men, women, and children was possible, the ravings of Moishe the Beadle, Elie’s teacher, are soon proven true. Before being transferred to concentration camps, the Wiesel family is forced to live in a ghetto within their own village.
Eliezer, as an emotional first-person narrator, tells the horrific story of how their lives were uprooted, and he and his father were subjected to slave labor in Auschwitz/Birkenau. There, they meet a variety of characters, all of whom are suffering in separate and similar ways.
Eliezer is forced to work in an electrical factory where workers are regularly beaten and humiliated. He watches friends and acquaintances murdered, such as thirteen year old that the S.S. claim was part of a rebel group in the camp. At one point he has his gold tooth pried from his mouth with a spoon.
Towards the end of the novel, despite the obvious end of the war, the Nazis are unwilling to surrender their prisoners, and Eliezer’s situation takes an impossible turn for the worse. He’s forced to contend with horrible conditions and watch his remaining loved ones suffer. The novel also spends time in considerations of religion and justice, themes that Wiesel focuses on in his many other novels and works of non-fiction.
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.
Night, often considered to be Elie Wiesel’s memoir of the Holocaust, was published in 1960. The novel opens with the main character, Eliezer, living in Sighet, a town in Hungarian Transylvania. Eliezer and his family are Jewish, and he spends his time studying the Torah. That is, until his teacher, Moishe the Beadle, disappears. He returns several months later, acting in a way that the villagers deem insane. He’s ranting about the Gestapo, the German secret police, who murdered men, women, and children after leading them into the woods. Everyone thinks he’s lost his mind.
Soon, unfortunately, Moishe’s tale becomes more real. The Jews in Eliezer’s town are forced into ghettos in Sighet and then later into cattle cars that take them to the Birkenau, known as the gateway to Auschwitz. Pack ed together in the cars. They have no idea what’s happening to them. One character, a seemingly mad woman who’s later deemed a prophet, screams about fire when they can see the camps, seemingly predicting what’s going to happen to them. By the time they arrive, they’re terrified and starving.
Eliezer and his father are separate from the rest of the family when they get to Birkenau. They saw his mother and sisters again. This is the first selection that determines whether they’re going to be put to work or immediately killed. One of the most horrific sights that Eliezer describes in the novel occurs when he and his father walk past a pit where Nazis are burning the bodies of children.
Everyone who was on the train, except for those who have singled out to go straight to the crematorium, is stripped. Their possessions are taken from them, and their heads are shaved. They march to Auschwitz and then to Buna, a work camp. There, Eliezer works in an electrical factory. The selections continue to occur, and the Nazis continue to demonstrate their brutality through the slave-labor conditions that they force the Jews to work in. They’re often subject to beatings and humiliations. At one point, Eliezer’s gold tooth is pried out of his mouth with a spoon.
There are also executions of supposed rebels, including a young child. Throughout this portion of the novel, the various characters express a loss of faith in God, and there is a repetition of the theme of sons harming or abandoning their fathers. In a particularly scary moment, Elie’s father is culled from the group and selected for execution. But, he passes a second medical exam and is allowed to stay alive.
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.A poignant quote from the narrator of Night – Eliezer
Death March and Liberation
Eliezer eventually has to undergo a procedure for his foot, and it is at this time that the Nazis decide to abandon the camp due to the advancing Russian army. The prisoners are forced to walk more than fifty miles through the snow in what’s known as a death march. An innumerable number die on the journey in the horrible weather.
Once at their destination, another camp called Gleiwitz, the prisoners are put back on cattle cars once more and start a journey to Buchenwald. There, the very few remaining Jews, twelve out of one hundred in their car, are taken into the camp. There, Eliezer survives, but his father dies of physical abuse and dysentery. He describes falling asleep or slipping into a kind of delirium, for a period of time. When he woke up, his father’s body was gone. Elie expresses a concern that his father was taken to the crematorium while he was still alive.
Eliezer only escapes from the camp when it is liberated by the American army in April of 1945. When Eliezer looks at himself in the mirror, he sees the reflection of a corpse. His body is completely depleted.