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 or Night. The book has been translated into over 30 languages and is considered to be a quintessential work 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 categories. There's still lots of debate over how much of this book is a memoir, and for that reason, scholars still have trouble trying to approach it as a straightforward account.
The story centres around a man named Eliezer and his father Shlomo, and their experiences in Birkenau, Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Night provides examples of:
- Adult Fear:
- Definitely comes to mind when you think of the children burning in the crematorium and the babies being used for target practice.
- Camps like these have existed throughout history and it's likely there are some today.
- 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 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 that "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."
- Bookends: See Idiosyncratic Episode Naming below.
- 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 who he has to abandon.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.