Literature / Night
When he said Jesus again I couldn't take it, and for the only time in my life I was discourteous, which I regret to this day. I said, "Mr. Mauriac . . . ten years or so ago, I have seen children, hundreds of Jewish children, who suffered more than Jesus did on his cross and we do not speak about it." I felt all of a sudden so embarrassed. I closed my notebook and went to the elevator. He ran after me. He pulled me back; he sat down in his chair, and I in mine, and he began weeping. I have rarely seen an old man weep like that, and I felt like such an idiot . . . And then, at the end, without saying anything, he simply said, "You know, maybe you should talk about it."
— Elie Wiesel
On April 11, 1945, the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated, and among the freed inmates was a young man named Elie Wiesel. He had lost his father, his mother, and one of his sisters. For a decade he worked as a journalist and refused to even discuss The Holocaust
. In 1954, he poured his experiences into a Yiddish book that was originally almost 900 pages longnote
and called And the World Remained Silent
. However, the public was generally apathetic to it.
Then in 1955, he interviewed the Christian (and Christ-obsessed) novelist Francois Mauriac, with the results described in the page quote, and with Mauriac's help he published a greatly abridged edition in France, then America, calling it La Nuit
. The book has been translated into over 30 languages and is considered to be a quintessential work and a cornerstone of Holocaust literature.
It's a novel—er, a memoir—no, an autobiography—um, a nonfiction story—eh, this book doesn't really fit neatly into one of these genres
, and there's still lots of debate over how much of this book is memoir, and scholars still have trouble trying to approach it as a straightforward account. This story is based off of Eliezer
(or some semi-fictionalization) and his father Shlomo, and their experiences in Birkenau, Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Night provides examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: Eliezer can't help but laugh at the absurdity of the SS officer Idek moving a hundred prisoners just to have sex with a girl. Unfortunately, Idek heard this and punished Eliezer for it.
- Adult Fear: Definitely comes to mind when you think of the children burning in the crematorium and the babies being used for target practice.
- Anyone Can Die: Duh.
- A Taste of the Lash: As Disproportionate Retribution for discovering an affair between an SS and a young Polish girl.
- Author Avatar: Eliezer, if you don't already believe he and the author are the same person.
- Badass Boast: A powerful and well-deserved one at that.
"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."
- Based on a True Story: It's not entirely clear how much of the book is based on actual events. Wiesel himself has said that "Some events do take place but are not true; others are, although they never occurred," and he tends to get offended when people call it fiction.
- Bittersweet Ending: Shifts very, very much towards the "bitter" side. Buchenwald is liberated and Eliezer survives, although not without extreme loss and most specifically (and recently) at the cost of his father's life. But at the very end, when Eliezer stares in a mirror, he realizes how much the experience has dehumanized him despite the liberation.
"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."
- Book Ends: See Idiosyncratic Episode Naming below.
- Cassandra Truth: Moshe, who can't prove his citizenship, is the first to be hauled off in a cattle train, but manages to escape. No one listens to his warnings.
- Determinator: Eliezer embodies both the good and bad sides of this trope, surviving no matter what he has to do and who he has to abandon.
- Doorstopper: When Elie wrote his Yiddish book And the World Remained Silent, the manuscript was over 800 pages long. However, it was reduced to 245 pages.
- Inverted by Night itself, considering it isn't even 150 pages long.
- Driven to Suicide: Eliezer considers it; and even after he backs out, he considers himself dead anyway.
- Due to the Dead: Shlomo recites the Kaddish for those who die.
- Flash Forward: Eliezer relates that he was beaten by a man called Idek in a fit of rage and afterwards a young French girl helped patch him up. He then relates that years later he met that same woman in an underground.
- Friend to All Children: Josef Mengele plays himself up as this. Subverted, given that he was Josef Mengele and had a reason for being so outwardly nice to the children.
- Genre-Busting: Is it a novel, a memoir, semi-autobiographical, nonfictional, or something different? The world may never know.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming / Theme Naming: Though they're far lesser-known than this book, Wiesel wrote two fictional follow-ups to his memoir, both exploring the plight of Holocaust survivors and their efforts to reconcile with the past. The first was called Dawn, and the second was called Day. Together with Night, they form a trilogy.
- Infant Immortality: Averted thoroughly. Starting in the very first chapter, we hear of babies being used as target practice for the SS soldiers. Then we see children being shot, thrown into fire-pits, hanged...
- Irony: Tragic in his case.
"The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it...."
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Shlomo dies after receiving one from an SS officer.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Subverted. During the march from Birkenau to Auschwitz anyone who moves too slowly is shot. Rabbi Eliahou can no longer manage to run, and loses his son in the crowd, but is determined to find him. Eliezer declines to tell him that said son abandoned him after seeing him limping, and prays to God for the spiritual strength never to abandon his own father. He doesn't get it, and is ultimately too cowardly to help the dying Shlomo.
- Potty Failure: One person who dies says they can't hold on any longer as they are trying to undo their pants to poop.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Eliezer comes to hate God for allowing the Holocaust.
"Blessed be God's name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death?"
- Sanity Slippage: Poor Mrs. Schachter.
- That Man Is Dead: Eliezer, after seeing children thrown into a firepit, states: "The student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in the flames. There remained only a shape that looked like me."
- Tomato in the Mirror: A grim (and literal) example in the ending when Eliezer looks in a mirror and sees himself for the first time since the Jewish ghettos, and realizes how much the camps have done to him.
- World War II
- The Can Kicked Him: It's heavily implied that Zalman, a young Pole appearing near the end of the story, is trampled to death whilst attempting to relieve himself in the snow during the long run from Buna to Gleiwitz.