Night Book summary
Night is an autobiographical memoir that describes, Nobel laureate, Elie Weisel’s account of the Holocaust. Elie had originally written a much longer account in Yiddish, but he then had it translated into English when he met his editor, Francois Mauriac. Despite having an editor who had won the Nobel prize for literature, Elie struggled to find a publisher for his book. He fondly recalled later onwards that he had earned a paltry sum of a hundred dollars when he had found a publisher for his book. The book continued to have a difficult journey as it struggled to find readers. Elie learned from Rabbis that parents did not want their children to read Night, because they wanted to shield them from the terrible memories of the Holocaust. Eventually, Night came to be recognized as an important account of a witness to the unspeakably evil acts of humanity.
Night recounts the account of a young adolescent Jewish boy living in the small town of Sighet, Transylvania during WWII. Eliezer is a devout youth who studies the Kabbala, the Jewish mystic texts with the help of a vagabond mystic, Moishe the beadle. The youth’s first encounter with the atrocities of the Nazis occurs when Moishe is expelled from Sighet by the Hungarian government along with the other foreign Jewish people living in Hungary. Moishe is handed over to the Germans, and forced into a labor camp, but he manages to escape and return to Sighet. He warns the other Jewish people about the terrible crimes being committed against the Jewish people by the Germans but the people in the town refuse to believe him. However, when the Hungarian government falls into the hands of the Germans, the Jewish people begin to worry. Their concerns are pacified as they begin to believe that the Germans would not extend their operations beyond Budapest, the capital of the nation.
This proves to be inaccurate as German troops soon move into the town, and begin laying laws for the Jewish population. They strip them of their wealth, force them to live in closed ghettos, and then begin to transport them to concentration camps. Eliezer and his family are stuffed into cattle cars along with the other Jewish people of their town. There is barely any room for them to move, and as the journey begins to lengthen, the people in the cars begin to lose their sense of social decorum. An elderly woman loses her mind and is beaten to submission by the other passengers, while the others learn that they are not simply being relocated but being taken to Auschwitz. Their arrival in Auschwitz is marked by the sight of a gigantic furnace, and the smell of burning flesh. Some of the other prisoners in Auschwitz yell at them for coming willingly to this horrid place, where they have only two options either to perform hard labor or to be burned.
Eliezer is separated from his mother and sisters, and while he eventually reunites with two of his sisters, he never learns about the fate of his mother and youngest sister. Eliezer and his father are advised to lie about their ages to undergo selection. They are briefly questioned by Dr. Mengele and selected for labor while the rest are sent to be killed. As Eliezer heads toward the barracks, he witnesses Nazis burning children and adults in pits of flames. The prisoners sent for labor are shaved, tattooed with a number, and dressed in inmate clothing. They are transported to Buna, where they are put to work. During his time at Buna, Eliezer and his father survive terrible conditions of violence, deprivation, and humiliation. Eliezer is forced to question his understanding of God, as he watches an innocent child being hanged to death. Eliezer and his father survive multiple selections, but with each passing selection, Eliezer worries about his weakening father.
Eliezer recounts the scary days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but he is unable to worship the almighty because he cannot believe that God would allow such horrific atrocities to occur. Air raids become more frequent and they begin to hear of the advancing Red Army. Eliezer is forced to undergo surgery because of his foot so when the Germans decide to evacuate Buna, he is forced to choose between either staying in the infirmary or marching with the others with a barely healed foot. Eliezer and his father go through a horrendous journey, and several of their accompanying prisoners succumb to starvation, exhaustion, or the cold. Eliezer watches sons turn against their fathers as he struggles to keep caring for his father under the hostile conditions of the Holocaust.
They arrive in Buchenwald significantly weaker, and Eliezer’s father falls ill with Dysentery. All the inmates advise Eliezer to stop caring for his father since he could survive better without the added responsibility of his father. Eliezer’s father is then killed by an angry German officer when he refuses to stop calling for Eliezer in his final moments. Eliezer is relieved the next day that his father has passed, and the rest of his time in the camp is focused on just eating. The Germans begin to kill more and more people as the American army advances into Germany, but the resistance in the camp expels the German soldiers on the day they plan to evacuate the remaining prisoners. The American army arrives with supplies for the prisoners. Eliezer falls sick with food poisoning and wakes up in the prison hospital. He looks in the mirror for the first time in months and finds himself looking into the eyes of a corpse.
French & English
Les Editions de Minuit