Night by Elie Wiesel

Night takes place in the small town of Sighet, Transylvania during the midst of WWII where Elie Wiesel, the main character and narrator, lives with his father Shlomo, his mother, and his three sisters Tzipora, Hilda, and Bea. As WWII rages on, the Wiesel family maintains the image of the typical Jewish family; they ignore the threats and warnings of approaching Germans and instead devote themselves to God and insist that the war will soon be over. All is normal in the life of Elie and his family- until the day when German troops invade Sighet. Suddenly, the Wiesel’s and the other Jewish families find themselves living in ghettos before finally being transferred by cattle wagon to the infamous concentration camp of Auschwitz. Elie’s life is turned inside out as he is separated from his mother and sisters, not knowing that he will never see them again, and sent along with his father to struggle to survive in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buna, Gleiwitz, and finally Buchenwald. Along the way, Elie fights to survive as he is forced to work in a warehouse, gets 25 lashes from a whip, undergoes an operation on his foot, witnesses several hangings, marches 42 miles to Buna, and rides on a train for 10 days with no food or water, among other things. Amazingly, Elie and his father are two of the only men to survive long enough to make it through all of those experiences and arrive in Buchenwald. However, when Elie’s father becomes deathly ill with dysentery at Buchenwald, Elie knows that there is not much hope for him. On January 29, 1945, Elie’s father, Shlomo, dies at Buchenwald. Shortly later, in April of 1945, Elie and the rest of the prisoners of the concentration camp are liberated by the Americans, finally free to live their lives in peace, with the exception of the horrific memories from the camps that surely haunted their minds forever.

Description of Major Characters

Elie Wiesel- The main character, narrator and author of the memoir Night. Elie starts off as an innocent, God-fearing boy who lives with his family in Sighet, Transylvania. At the end of Night, after going through life in several concentration camps and having his humanity viciously stripped away from him, Elie is nothing more than a slightly older young man who has been bereft of both his family and his faith in God and the rest of the world.

Shlomo Wiesel- Elie’s father. A highly respected authority figure in the beginning of Night, he suffers through the horrors of the concentration camps with Elie. Shlomo dies in Buchenwald on January 9, 1945.

Madame Schachter- A woman who pretty much goes crazy and screams about fire on the first cattle wagon ride to Birkenau. At first, the other Jews treat her kindly and gently; they try to soothe her, and they place a damp rag on her forehead. However, her cries soon become too much for them to take; the Jews beat Madame Schechter, tie her up, and gag her in order to shut her up.

Akiba Drumer- Once the quintessence of faithfulness, Akiba Drumer is eventually drained of all his spirituality and is taken as a victim of selection. He even goes so far as to say “God is no longer with us” (76). That just goes to show even the strongest fall.

Rabbi Eliahu- Kind rabbi who is beloved by all. He searches diligently for his son after they are separated during the march to Gleiwitz, unaware of the fact that his son had purposely tried to get rid of him.

Rabbi Eliahu’s son- Abandons his father. On the march to Gleiwitz, Rabbi Eliahu’s son sees his father falling behind the rest of the runners, but he does not slow down to help him. Rather, he speeds up to put as much distance between himself and the burden that is his father as possible.

Juliek- Polish violin player who befriends Elie. Juliek dies at Gleiwitz, his violin lying trampled at his feet.

Meir Katz- The strongest of the strong during the 10 day long train ride to Buchenwald; he saves Elie from being strangled. However, by the end of the train ride, Meir Katz is too weak to go on, and he is left for dead.

Stein of Antwerp- Relative of Elie and his father. Elie gives him false hope that his family is alive. However, when he finds out the real news about his family, he is never seen again. (Assuming he died because he gave up the will to live when he found out his family was dead.)


I really like this book because it constantly kept me on the edge of my seat. I always found myself reading ahead to the next chapter wondering, “What’s going to happen to Elie next?” The fact that this book is nonfiction makes it even more interesting, because it actually happened to Elie Wiesel; he actually lived through German concentrations camps during WWII. That just leaves me in awe. However, I found parts of the book confusing at times because you are sort of expected to have some sort of knowledge of the Jewish religion. While reading, I had absolutely no idea what Kabbalah or Rosh Hashanah or the Zohar was, and I found it hard to understand the idea Elie was trying to get across when he talked about them.

What can we learn from reading this book?

Night teaches us as readers what it means to be human. By diving into a story where human beings are stripped of their humanity, morality, emotions, and pretty much everything else, we see that it is impossible for one's body and mind to survive without basic needs. The basic needs obviously include items like food, water, and shelter, but they also include more obscure things, like human relationships. In Night, when Elie gets to the point where his relationship with God, his relationship with his father, and his relationship with anyone else fall apart and disappear all together, Elie sort of ceases to exist anymore. He becomes a hollow shell of his former self because all of his relationships have been torn from him and, as humans, we can't survive without communication, faith, love, and even anger towards other human beings. One of the main lessons Night teaches us is that to live as humans, we obviously need food and water to fuel us and shelter to keep us safe. However, there are also more complex elements of the human existence, like the need for human relationships, without which the spirit withers.
In addition, Night teaches us that every single human being is capable of doing the absolute worst thing just to survive another minute. This concept is portrayed all throughout Night. For example, when Elie is riding the train to Buchenwald and someone throws a crust of bread into his car, the other Jews in the car literally kill each other to get at that little morsel of bread. In the end, a son kills his father and multiple other Jews kill the son in order to get a nibble of bread and survive another minute. Many of us reading Night would never dream of becoming a savage killer just to get a piece of bread but, then again, none of us are in life or death situations.

Essential Questions

What are the root causes of persecution?

All kinds of feelings and emotions lead to persecution: anger, hate, jealously, superiority- the list goes on and on. Persecution is often the result of disagreement between two people(s), whether one person thinks that they are better than the other person, or one person is jealous of the other person, etc. Basically, when people don't get along (and that sure does seem to happen quite a lot) some sort of persecution almost always takes place. However, it usually isn't on the same large genocidal scale as the Holocaust. Persecution like the kind that took place during the Holocaust takes an awful lot of hateful, dominating, power-hungry feelings. The sad thing is, persecution still takes place in the world today, and a lot of people are doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

What are some current examples of persecution that take place in today’s world?

Unfortunately, persecution is a terribly real thing, and it does occur in the world today. Just look at places like Darfur or the Republic of Congo. Various rebel groups in these regions have risen up and lashed out against their country's government, causing various uproars. Caught in the crossfire between the rebel groups and the governments are innocent civilians. Consequently, these civilians are often used and abused as human shields, and they end up being killed in the fighting. All over the world, especially in the East, countries and waging wars of persecution on themselves and, no matter hard any one person or group of people may try, stopping the persecution is beginning to seem like a gargantuan, almost impossible task.

What does Night teach us about what it means to be human?

I could say please refer to the above, but instead, I think I'll just restate myself so as not to leave this question blank.
Night teaches us that, as humans, we obviously have certain necessities like food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. But we also have more complex needs, like the need for human relationships and self awareness. When these more advanced needs are not met, we sort of devolve from humans into something much more animal-like. All we can focus on is self-preservation, getting another meal, and surviving another second. Elie and the other prisoners of the concentration camps experience these animalistic emotions. Having been stripped of their humanity, all they can think of is their empty stomachs, thirsty mouths, and how death could be waiting for them at any given moment. Basically, humans have both basic and advanced needs (like what Abraham Maslow describes in his Hierarchy of Needs as shown below). As humans, when our basic needs are not met, our advanced needs cannot be met. Then, when our advanced needs cannot be met we cease to be human at all.


Reflections on Essay

What did I learn from this writing assignment?

I'd have to say that the biggest thing I learned from this writing assignment is just how delicate the human mind and human relationships are. I never really thought about it before, but Abraham's Maslows Hierarchy of Needs really put it into perspective for me. As people, we have basic needs that must be satisfied before anything more complex, like love or a sense of belonging, even runs through our minds.

Of course, I also learned a lot more about just how horrific the Holocaust was, and the terrible tragedies that ocurred within the barbed wire walls of the Nazi conccentration camps. Reading Night was an excellent example for me of how to school subjects can overlap and intertwine, referring to english and history in this case.

What did I do well on?

I think that I made good use of transitions in my essay (that "list of transitions" paper you gave us really came in handy!) and that my paragraph structure was pretty good. I spent a lot of time trying to make my sentences flow together smoothly because I can't stand it when you read something and the sentences just don't fit together right. I also worked on my time managing skills and spent enough time on my essay so that it was well-written, but not so much time that I got overly frustrated and flustered.

What areas could I improve on?

I could still improve on figuring out when to start a new paragraph. I can't seem to knock the "strictly 5-paragraph-essay" idea out of my mind. Therefore, I still have a hard time knowing when I can start a new paragraph and when I really shouldn't. Also, I put a quote on dehumanization in my introduction paragraph even though my essay was about Elie's relationship with God because you told me I could use it to talk about the difficulties in the concentration camps. However, I guess I really shouldn't have done that because you noted that it was an abrupt transition and that you were expecting an essay on dehumanization. Next essay I think I could improve by sticking to quotes that pertain to my topic. In the end, as I always say, "there's always room for improvement."