The book Night opens in the town of Signet where Elie Wiesel, the author, was born. He lived his child hood in the Signet, Transylvania. He had three sisters Hilda, Bea, and Tzipora. His father was an honored member of the Jewish community. He was a cultured man concerned about his community yet, he was not an emotional man. His parents were owners of a shop and his two oldest sisters worked for his parents. Elie was a school boy and interested in studying the Zohar “the cabbalistic books, the secrets of Jewish mysticism”(Wiesel 3). His teacher was a foreigner, Moshe the Beadle, a “poor barefoot of Signet”(Wiesel 3). He was Elie’s teacher until he was forced to leave Signet by the Hungarians because he was a foreign Jew.
After several months Elie saw Moshe the Beadle once again. Moshe the Beadle told his story about his journey that the Jews were forced to get out and dig grave which would become final resting places for prisoners who were killed. Luckily, Moshe the Beadle was able to escape. He pretended that he was dead in order to escape being killed. Not only did Moshe tell his story to Elie, he wanted to warn the Jews of Signet of what could happen to them. However, they only thought it was a vivid imagination speaking from his lips. No one wanted to believe his story and people lived life as usual.
It was not until German troops would enter Hungarian territory that life would change for the Jews of Signet. At first the German soldiers did not seem like a threat. During the week of Passover things seemed to be going well. People were celebrating yet, it was not a complete celebration. On the seventh day of the Passover Jewish leaders of the community were arrested. After that rules were set by the Germans. Jews were confined to their homes for three days and they could no longer keep valuables such as gold, jewelry and other objects. The Germans took it all. Elie’s father managed to bury the family’s savings in the cellar. After the three days Jews had to wear a yellow star. After this more rules were set. Jews could not go to restaurants, travel on railways, go to synagogues, or go out after six o’clock.
As if the rules and restrictions were not enough. Soon Jews would be placed in Ghettos. There were two gettos set up in Signet. These ghettos were fenced in with barbed wire and the windows of the houses facing the street were boarded up. The Jewish people of Signet tried to look at it positively and saw it as “A little Jewish Republic”(Wiesel 9). People tried to live as normal and felt they would remain in the ghetto until the end of the war. However this would not be the case. Elie’s father brought news to his family that they would be deported and the ghetto was to be destroyed. They did not know where they were going , only that they would be leaving in the morning and could only take a few personal belongings.
Fortunately for the Wiesel family their journey was postponed for a couple of days. When they heard the words “All Jews outside!”( Wiesel 16) they knew it was time to leave everything behind. The beginning of their journey was short. they stopped in another ghetto where they stayed for two days until their journey would begin once again. After another stop they were then put on cattle wagons filled with eighty people to a car. It was uncomfortable, there was barely any air, there was nothing to drink or eat, it was hot, and people had to take turns sitting down. When they arrived in the town of Kaschau they heard the words “From this moment you come under the authority of the German army”(Wiesel 21). At this point they knew they were never going home. They traveled some more and soon they would arrive at Birkenau the reception center of Auschwitz. When they arrived they could see flames and “smell burning flesh” (Wiesel 26).
People were being separated “Men to the left! Women to the right!”(Wiesel 27). This was when Elie and his father were separated from his mother and sisters. It would be the last time he would ever see them again. Elie and his father would now have to stick together and rely on one another. They had to lie about their ages in order to stay alive and together. As Elie passed through Auschwitz during the first few hours he learned of the crematories and what he needed to do to survive. He also began to question his beliefs in God. He said “Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the universe…What had I to thank him for?”(Wiesel 31).
When they arrived at their barracks they were forced to strip and given new clothing. They also saw a barber and had their heads shaved. They were reunited with others from their old community of Signet. It made them happy for the moment but they knew that the only thing they must concern themselves with is surviving for themselves. The next day Elie and his father were moved to new barracks where they were soaked in petrol. This was known as disinfection and it was done whenever anyone entered a new barracks. After soaking in petrol they then took a hot shower and were given new clothes. At this point their pride and hope was practically non-existent. They were no longer themselves.
They were informed that they were in Auschwitz and that it was a concentration camp and that they had to work or else they would be sent to the furnace. However, the furnace was not a threat to them they had been through so much already that the idea of death really had no meaning.
A few days later they were to leave Birkenau. They marched away from that camp to another destination. They reached another camp with a sign to the entrance reading “Work is Liberty!”(Wiesel 38) they were now in Auschwitz. They thought this camp was much better than Birkenau. The buildings were concrete not wooden. They had to go through disinfection upon entrance. When they arrived at another barracks they met a prisoner who was in charge, he was Polish, he told them they had already gotten through the selection and there was hard work ahead of them. They had to have the strength to live and hopefully one day have liberation. They were assigned to Block 17 and told to go to sleep for the evening. The words of the Pole did boost morale and there were hopes that the war was almost over.
The next day they would be given their identification numbers which would be tattooed on their arms. This number became their name. They stayed at Auschwitz for three weeks. The day they were to leave they were given rations of bread, counted, and they left, walking, to their next destination. Their walk lasted four hours and they arrived at the next camp, Buna.
At Buna they went through disinfection and then assigned to their labor units. They were quarantined for three days during that time they would go through a medical examination and then they would work. During the medical exam they were asked if they were in good health and of course they had to say yes. They also saw a dentist. The dentist was not checking for bad teeth but for gold teeth. Anyone with gold in his mouth was written down on a list. Elie, unfortunately, had a golden crown. He was later called back to the dentist for extraction of his tooth. Elie was not going to give up his tooth and told the dentist he was sick. This went on a few more times until eventually the dentist was transferred to another camp and the tooth was forgotten. He did not want to give up his tooth because it was all he had and could one day prove to be valuable. One day along the line he would have to give up his tooth. It was when a foreman named Franek noticed the gold tooth in Elie’s mouth. He used Elie’s feelings toward his father to get it. He saw that Elie’s father could not march and tormented Elie’s father. Elie tried to teach his father how to march but it did not work. Eventually they had to give into Franek and give him the tooth.
During their time at Buna they were placed in a warehouse for electrical equipment which was a good unit according to other civilians. The work was not hard but they did have a harsh Kapo. His name was Idek, he had a bad temper and it was a good idea not to get in his way. One example of his bad temper was when Elie witnessed him with a young polish girl. Elie was whipped twenty-five times for witnessing this event. Idek’s explanation for this was for his “curiosity”(Wiesel 56).
Another event that occurred during their stay at Buna was an air raid. The Americans bombed the camp. The raid only lasted a little over an hour. The bombing made the prisoners happy they did not fear death. It also made Elie happy that the warehouse he worked in was not bombed. A week after the bombing, the prisoners were forced to watch a hanging of a man who stole during the raid. The Germans claimed “Let this be a warning and example to all prisoners”(Wiesel 59.) It was only another attempt at inflicting terror in the prisoner’s minds. After the hanging they were forced to walk past the dead man before they ate. The idea of the crematory no longer bothered Elie but this event bothered him.
On the evening of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Elie once again questioned God. He could no longer listen to the prayers and he felt betrayed. The Jewish were supposed to observe Yom Kipper by fasting. Many questioned whether or not they should fast. If they did fast it might make them weaker and possibly lead to their death. Elie did not fast.
Elie was separated from his father. They were placed on separate units. The rumor of selection was passing around the camp. Elie was afraid his father was too weak to make the selection. The head of Elie’s block gave the prisoners tips to get through the selection. He told them to run, not to walk slowly, and not to look at the SS. He also told them not to be afraid. Both Elie and his father passed the selection.
A few more months went by, it was January, and Elie was suffering of a swollen foot from the cold. He had it examined and the doctor told him he needs to have an operation or he would lose his leg. During his stay in the hospital, he enjoyed not having to work or be ordered around. Although he was enjoying this “time off" he had to get out of the hospital or else he might be selected. Elie had his operation and was supposed to stay in the hospital until hi foot healed. When he heard that the camp was to be evacuated all except the patients in the hospital he realized he better get well quick. He left to find his father and they made the decision to evacuate from the camp with the other prisoners.
Elie and his father, along with other prisoners, left the camp on a dark snowy night. They were forced to run to their next destination. They could not think all they could do was run. When they were finally able to rest, it was in the snow. Elie’s father did not want him to sleep to long especially in the cold because he may not wake up. When the journey began once again, people were trampling over others and dropping to the ground not able to go any further. Elie no longer felt his wounded foot all he could do was run. They only had hope to reach the next destination as quickly as possible. They stayed at a camp called Gleiwitz for three days with no food or water. Their next stop would be to a train.
On the train everyone was packed in and trying to keep warm. There were dead people on the floors and they had to make stops to dump the dead people. People took the clothing of the dead. They had to eat snow to keep from getting dehydrated and they were not given food. Elie saw the savage instinct in people who would kill their own family for food.
Their next stop was Buchenwald. Upon arrival they were counted and pointed to the assembly place. They then headed to the showers. At this point Elie’s father could barely hold on, he was near death. He was weak and had no desire to live. Elie stayed with him during the last moments of his life. On January 28, 1945 Elie went to sleep and his father was still alive. When he woke up the next day his father was gone (Wiesel 106).
On April 11, 1945 Elie was free. The Americans moved in on Buchenwald and took over the camp. The first thing the free men wanted was food. They could not think of revenge or their families “Nothing but bread”(Wiesel 109). Elie was sick from food poisoning after the liberation, he almost died. However, when he was finally able to get up and look in the mirror after so many years he did not even recognize himself. All he could see was a “corpse” staring back at him.
Elie Wiesel now lives in the United Stated under the name of Andrew Mellon. He is the Professor of Humanities at Boston University. He is also Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Council. This organization is a nonpolitical organization that was formed to educate people of the crimes put forth on the Jewish people during the Holocaust (Chaimberlin 14).
Chamberlin, Brewster, and Marcia Feldman eds. The Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps 1945. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C, 1987.
Wiesel, Elie. Night . Bantam Books: New York, 1989 .