By Elie Wiesel. Night. Preface to the New Translation.
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By Elie Wiesel
If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one. Just as the past lingers in the present, all my writings after Night, including those that deal with biblical, Talmudic, or Hasidic themes, profoundly bear its stamp, and cannot be understood if one has not read this very first of my works.
Why did I write it?
Did I write it so as not to go mad or, on the contrary, to go mad in order to understand the nature of madness, the immense, terrifying madness that had erupted in history and in the conscience of mankind?
Was it to leave behind a legacy of words, of memories, to help prevent history from repeating itself?
Or was it simply to preserve a record of the ordeal I endured as an adolescent, at an age when one’s knowledge of death and evil should be limited to what one discovers in literature?
There are those who tell me that I survived in order to write this text. I am not convinced. I don’t know how I survived; I was weak, rather shy; I did nothing to save myself. A miracle? Certainly not. If heaven could or would perform a miracle for me, why not for the others more deserving than myself? It was nothing more than chance. However, having survived, I needed to give some meaning to my survival. Was it to protect that meaning that I set to paper an experience in which nothing made any sense?
In retrospect I must confess that I do not know, or no longer know, what I wanted to achieve with my words. I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer—or my life, period—would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
The struggle to maintain faith:
In the beginning Elie’s faith is absolute.
His faith is shaken by the cruelty and evil he witnesses.
Begins to feel that if the world is so disgusting and cruel then God must either be disgusting and cruel or not exist at all.
The fact that he is questions reflects his inherent commitment to God.
Although he is forever changed Elizer emerges with his faith intact.
Silence of God: how can an all-knowing, all-powerful God allow such horror and cruelty occur, especially to such devout worshipers?
The Jews expected to be saved by an angel as Isaac was when Abraham was commanded to sacrifice him.
God’s silence demonstrates the absence of divine compassion
Silence of the victims: overall lack of resistance to the Nazi threat
Suggests that passivity and silence are what allowed the Holocaust to continue
Night is an attempt to break the silence: to tell loudly and boldly the atrocities of the Holocaust
Inhumanity towards other humans
The revelation of how horrible people can be to one another
Incomprehensible aspect of the Holocaust: how human beings can so callously slaughter millions of innocent victims
Cruelty breeds cruelty
The cruelty of the camp turns prisoners against each other
Self-preservation became the highest virtue
The camp and the need to survive ruptures familial bonds
Elie discusses instances where sons sacrifice their fathers in order to save themselves.
Despite his love and care for his father, Elie feels that he has somehow sacrificed his father for his own safety.
Elie demonstrates that his relationship with his father was stronger than his instinct for self-preservation.
Elie’s father Chlomo
Symbol of the Nazis’ cruel power
Agent of destruction in the crematoria
The wicked who wield the power of fire use it to punish the innocent.
Symbolize a world without God’s presence
Always occurs when suffering is the worst
Presence reflects Eliezer’s belief that he lives in a world without God.
Elie first arrives at Birkenau/Auschwitz at night
The prisoners begin their horrible run from Buna at night
A people without a country/home—as a result memory and tradition play a significant role in Jewish life
Judaism relies on customs, observances, and traditions passed down from generation to generation as the markers of cultural identity
The Holocaust was an attempt to wipe out this cultural identity
Conversation & Storytelling are important elements of Jewish folk tradition
Chlomo’s storytelling symbolizes Jewish culture as a whole.
Memoir begins with many references to religion and religious observance
By the end of the book almost all mentions of Jewish observance have vanished
Jewish tradition and beliefs indirectly hold the foundation of the book.
Before being transported to concentration camps, Jews were rounded up and forced to live in walled off areas of the city.
Little by little life returned to “normal.” The barbed wire that encircled us like a wall did not fill us with real fear. In fact, we felt this was not a bad thing; we were entirely among ourselves. … People thought this was a good thing. We would no longer have to look at all those hostile faces, endure those hate-filled stares. No more fear. No more anguish. We would live among Jews, among brothers…
--Night (page 12)
After the morning roll call we were marched downtown, under heavy guard, for work. Even under those circumstances it felt good to be out of the ghetto and breathe fresh air. At the same time we felt our deprivation at the sight of the unchanged world going on around us: normal people living normal lives. We passed carefree children playing in the streets; toddlers led by their mothers, chatting and giggling, unafraid of sudden, forced separation. There were grandmothers pushing their infant grandchildren's carriages, exuding joy and anticipation; young people holding hands, smiling and conversing, facing the future with confidence. We marched on.
Jewish homes occupied by the Poles. Jewish businesses taken over by the Germans. And the Jews themselves, plundered of their joys, torn from their families, dressed in tatters, degraded, hunted, and herded like animals. They would extract some work from us, squeeze the last drop of blood from our veins, and then finally discard the useless bodies.
Yes, there was still a normal world outside the ghetto walls. There the Poles, laughing and jeering, relished the sight of the ravaged, tattered Jews. "What, are they still around?" they asked. "Hasn't Hitler killed them all off?"
Many died of starvation
“Jews faced selection immediately upon arrival; those deemed fit to work, usually a small minority of those on the transports, became registered prisoners, whereas others, including as a rule all children and the elderly, went to their death in the gas chambers.”
--Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum)
Prisoners were tattooed with a serial number
They wore striped camp fatigues with a piece of cloth attached bearing the prisoner’s serial number and the symbol of his/her category
Red triangle= political prisoner
Green triangle= ordinary criminals
Black triangle =asocials
Star of David=Jewish
“I was in a terribly bad condition and the German guard stood there and watched us picking food out of the trash…There was a rotten apple and we pulled it out and ate it…he asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I told him, ‘…Do me a favor, kill me, kill me.’ He said, ‘I wasn’t given any such order.’” –Lea