The title suggests a clear setting of the nighttime and in a symbolic way the setting is during a time as dark and long as the night. Elie Wiesel lived through a time in world history that is so sinister many people refuse to believe it could have even happened. The Holocaust, World War II, Nazi Germany invasion of Eastern Europe countries, all are the setting and background story for Elie Wiesel firsthand account of surviving it all written in his book Night.
Starting in Sighet, Transylvania “a small village that didn’t even make the maps” (Birthplace) Elie, his family, and many other Jews felt safe. They were far from the action in 1941 living their normal lives. The years passed and the Nazi threat grew closer their daily routines were changed, they were forced to move, to wear a star, and finally to be transported in 1944 to Auschwitz a German concentration camp, the largest of the death camps. (Auschwitz-Birkenau) Arriving at Birkenau men and women were separated as soon as they exited the train. In the moment so many families and loved ones were looking at each other for the last time, and none had the foresight to even know it. The same was true for Elie, “I didn’t know that this was the moment or the place where I was leaving my mother and Tzipora forever.” (Wiesel p.29) In the night (around midnight) Elie and his family were in Birkenau in the year 1944 and for two family members this was also their final resting place.
It stands out to me how human nature is portrayed in the experience in this book. Even as they were separated from families, beaten, yelled at, seemingly marched to their death in the crematoria, told to strip, shaved, marched around camp, made to stand in the elements, and all the while smelling the stink of burning human flesh, they were still able to share joy when finding friends in the same place as you, in holding a family members hand because at least you weren’t alone, and having a moral boost after some sleep. (Wiesel 33-42) This holds true for the rest of the book, people always keeping the faith, holding on to some dream, and living for the family they know are still alive. All these things gave them the will to go on and the will to survive because it had to get better, didn’t it? But for the ones who did survive to the liberation by the allied troops I don’t think life will ever be a continuous sunny day, because the night always comes and with it the memories and nightmares that will never be forgotten. But thankfully it will never be forgotten because the people who perished under these circumstances of the Holocaust should never be forgotten.
In Birkenau Elie and his father were made to work in the warehouse and there the author begins to note has life in a concentration camp had changed him. After his father was beaten his anger was directed not at the Kapo who beat him but at his father who should not have provoked the Kapo. (Wiesel p. 54) This is where I began to see the separation of Elie and his father and imaged how it must have been for many others during this time in concentration and work camps. The human body can separate from the heart and emotion and learn to only survive and sometimes survival means only taking care of you. Take the story told on page 63 where a pipel was beating his own father because he did not make his bed properly and then demanded he stop crying or he would stop bringing his food. (Wiesel)
In the winter of 1945 as the allied troops drew closer, the camp was told of evacuation and the decision had to be made to go as told or stay behind in the infirmaries where there was a possibility of being finished in the furnaces. At this point Elie was more worried about not being separated from his father and they chose to be evacuated with the others. Foresight would have saved them his father’s death had they have know those in the infirmary were liberated by the Russians two days later. (Wiesel p 82) “SS units evacuate Auschwitz in January. Elie and his father are transferred toBuchenwaldconcentration camp, near Weimar Germany. Soviet troops liberate Auschwitz on January 27.” (Elie Wiesel Timeline and World Events: 1928–1951) The evacuation proves to be the wrong choice for Elie’s father but it struck me how during the march it was his father’s existence that kept him going and in the snowy night his father was the one encouraging his son who wanted to quit. This was also the time that Elie prayed the prayer to never do what Rabbi Eliahu’s son had done. “He had thought by this separation” from his father he could “free himself of a burden that could diminish his own chance for survival.” (Wiesel p. 86-91) This goes back to the idea of survival being a journey that one feels like they have to do alone, so others won’t bring them down or get in their way. It is so heart breaking that the encouragement the group needed to continue came from the very people that were making them march in the cold in the first place. So strange that they were wishing and praying for the barbed wire of Gleiwitz to appear, to be hoping and pining for another concentration camp where death seemed imminent. (Wiesel p. 92)
On the move again from Geliwitz they were put in train cars again this time different people entirely entered the cars. They had different views on life and what it meant to live. They also had different appearances, now so skinny more could fit into the cars. (Wiesel p. 97) “Our brains a whirlwind of decaying memories. Our minds numb with indifference…The night was growing longer, never ending.” (Wiesel p. 98) The author could be speaking of the literal night as they road to their new location but I feel that he was talking about the night that they will all live in for the rest of their lives. They will never be able to remove those memories from their minds and after experience something so horrific the night must seem never ending. The story of the workers throwing bread on to the train car shows another parallel in the story of the fight the human body has for survival above anything else and it takes over the heart and emotions numbing them. When the old man gets bread for he and his son and his son is the very one that is beating him to death to take the bread from his father, the son is beyond human in that moment and does not even recognize his own father calling out for him to stop. (Wiesel p. 101)
When they finally reach their destination, Buchenwald, Elie’s father has given up. The will to live is the key to survive in any aspect of life. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, when you are lost in the wilderness, when any struggle arises you must keep the will to live. This was proven in the book when people lost their will to live after learning of loved ones who did not make it; they gave up and died soon after. “I knew that I was no longer arguing with him but with Death itself, with Death that he had already chosen.” (Wiesel p. 105) As his father’s health worsens Elie starts to realize that he is too is acting the way he prayed he would not. He tried to help his father but was given the advice “In this place, there is no such thing as a father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone.” (Wiesel p. 110) When his father did pass in the night no one was aware of it happening and Elie was changed forever. He felt freedom and hunger. Nothing else mattered after his father died but food. This was his body taking over his mind and emotions and driving everything in his being toward survival and to survive you just need food. (Wiesel p. 112-113)
When the Front came closer and closer to Buchenwald Elie thought only of food. When the American tanks arrived and liberated the remaining men they only thought of provisions. “No thought of revenge, or of parents. Only of bread. And even when we were no longer hungry, not one of us thought of revenge.” (Wiesel p. 115) I hope that the survivor’s still do not think of revenge but instead of preserving and continuing the memory of all those that were lost during the Holocaust and World War II. The families not only lost people they cared for but the world suffered a great loss in losing so many lives and stories and possibilities. I am glad that Elie Wiesel had the strength to write this book and I hope that there is truth in the saying that time heals all pain. Maybe with time he and others have healed enough to see the light at dawn and not focus completely on the night.