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Literature / Night

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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 titled And the World Remained Silent, with its original manuscript running almost 900 pages longnote . 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 (Night). The book's story centres around a man named Eliezer and his father Shlomo, and their experiences in Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald. The book has been translated into over 30 languages and is considered to be a quintessential work of Holocaust literature.

Night is also notable in that it's not really a novel, a memoir, an autobiography, or a nonfiction story, being somewhat loosely based on Wiesel's experiences. There's still lots of debate over how much of this book is factual, and for that reason, scholars still have trouble trying to approach it as a straightforward account.

Wiesel published two follow-ups to the book: Dawn in 1961 and Day in 1962. These installments are more allegorical than autobiographical but nonetheless continue Wiesel's examination of his thoughts and experiences as a Holocaust survivor in the years after the genocide's end.

Night provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: The book is based on his own experience as a child prisoner in Auschwitz. There are several important messages.
    • The Holocaust happened, and we have to come to terms with that. It was a very dark mark on human history that should never be repeated. Real human beings with feelings were slaughtered for no reason other than the fact that they came from a different ethnic group.
    • Genocide is bad. It cannot happen again.
  • Anaphora: A repeated sentence beginning emphasizes the trauma Eliezer was irrevocably cursed with:
    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 that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. 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.
  • Author Avatar: Eliezer, if you don't already believe he and the author are the same people.
  • 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 said, "Some events do take place but are not true; others are, although they never occurred," and he tended 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: Elie had said that the sequels being called Dawn and Day represented his state of mind during and following the Holocaust, and how everything ends up coming right back to night.note invoked
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Death of a Child: 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...
  • Death March: The Buna concentration camp is evacuated due to the approach of the Red Army, and the inmates are forced to walk more than 50 miles to a train hub at Gleiwitz for transport to Buchenwald.
  • Determinator: Eliezer embodies both the good and bad sides of this trope, surviving no matter what he has to do and whom 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. Even Eliezer himself.
  • 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 the underground.
  • Friend to All Children: Josef Mengele plays himself up like 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? With Wiesel's death, the world may never know.
  • Irony: Tragic in his case.
    "The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it...." (Poor Father! Of what then did you die?)
  • Les Collaborateurs: The majority of the cruelty depicted on-page doesn't come from the SS but from Kapos, prisoners who became slave-drivers in exchange for better treatment. Elie seems to remember their brutality more vividly than the actual German instigators of his suffering, who, for the most part, are more distant.
  • 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.
  • One-Word Title: Night.
  • Oppose What You Suffered: Applies to the author. Elie Wiesel, a survivor of The Holocaust, spent his life after the Holocaust as an advocate against genocide.
  • 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 fibre 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.
  • A Taste of the Lash: As Disproportionate Retribution for discovering an affair between an SS and a young Polish girl.
  • 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."
  • Theme Naming: Though they're far less 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 is called Dawn, and the second is called Day. Together with Night, they form a trilogy.
  • 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 the sheer damage the camps have done to his mind and body.