Elie Wiesel

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Night | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Night, Section 1 how do the attitudes of Sighet's citizens toward the city's needy foreshadow their future behavior in the concentration camps?

While the people of Sighet help the needy, they do it out of a sense of obligation rather than a sense of concern. They want the poor to stay out of their way and not remind them of their condition. This foreshadows the indifference of the Jews to one another in the concentration camp. From the beginning, Eliezer and the men are advised, "Let there be camaraderie among you." There are a few examples of strangers helping other inmates. However, there are countless examples where the prisoners are as vicious toward each other as the Nazis are toward them. The kapos, who are Jews supervising fellow Jewish laborers or performing administrative tasks for the Nazis, deliver some of the worst beatings recalled in the memoir.

Why is it significant that Eliezer cannot explain why he prays in Night, Section 1, and how does this inability impact him later in the story?

Moshe the Beadle asks Eliezer questions when they first meet in Section 1: why he prays and why he cries when he prays. Eliezer is unable to answer. Praying, and faith in God, are ingrained in him and as natural as breathing. Throughout his experience in the Holocaust, Eliezer struggles with prayer and faith. After being stripped of his identity at Auschwitz in Section 3 he thinks, "The student of Talmud ... had been consumed by the flames." Yet, even as his faith wanes he continues to grapple with the nature of faith. In Section 5 he feels "a void" in response to his own refusal to fast on Yom Kippur, for instance, showing that he is aware of his rebellion against his faith. When Akiba Drumer dies, Eliezer wishes the man "could have kept his faith." He realizes, if only on a visceral level, that faith is necessary for survival.

In Night, Section 1 why do the Jews of Sighet fail to heed Moshe the Beadle's warning about the evils of the Nazis?

One reason the Jews of Sighet fail to heed Moshe the Beadle's warning is that Moshe is not a respected figure in the town. He is poor and a foreigner. Eliezer says of him, "He had mastered the art of rendering himself insignificant." What makes the news more incredible than the messenger, however, is the message itself about the massacre Moshe has witnessed. The horrors of the Holocaust are so beyond anyone's imagination—such actions are inconceivable—so the Jews of Sighet conclude that Moshe is mad. In addition, the news at this time, the end of 1942, is promising—up to the spring of 1944, Sighet believes that Germany will soon be defeated.

Why does Eliezer ask his father to emigrate to Palestine in Night, Section 1, and why does his father refuse?

Eliezer's desire to leave Sighet suggests the younger Jews of the town are not as optimistic as the elders. He says the elders, including his own father, are concerned with a number of things, "but not with their own fate." They are too entrenched in the community and its way of life. His father says he is too old to start a new life in a distant land. The citizens, young and old alike, delude themselves and see what they want to see. Even when Eliezer's friend returns from Budapest to tell of antisemitic acts there, including attacks on Jewish stores and synagogues, optimism soon returns.

In Night, Section 1 what does Eliezer mean when he says, "Poor Father! Of what then did you die?"

In an unemotional tone, Eliezer recounts the swift repercussions by the occupying Germans against the Jews of Sighet. First the leaders are arrested; then the Jews are forbidden to leave their homes; then their valuables are confiscated; then the Jews are forced to wear the yellow Star of David, the symbol of Judaism. Eliezer's father, who is almost shockingly blind to the implications of the Germans' action, says to community members who come to confer with him that the yellow star isn't lethal; wearing it isn't going to kill them. In a rare lapse into emotion, Eliezer comments parenthetically, "Poor Father! Of what then did you die?" He sees the star as a death sentence because its wearers would ultimately be deported and sent to an almost certain death in the concentration camps.

How does situational irony occur in Night, Section 1 when the Germans begin their assault on the Jews of Sighet on Passover?

Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jews' freedom from the bonds of Egyptian slavery, so the irony of the situation is that the Jews' loss of freedom begins on a day that celebrates it. God made himself especially present when he rescued the Jews and punished the Egyptians with ten plagues before ultimately drowning them in the sea. On the seventh day of the eight-day holiday, the Germans begin their destruction of the Jewish community of Sighet. First, they are made subject to restrictive laws, then they are put into ghettos, and finally, they are taken away to concentration camps. Eliezer repeatedly notes God's absence in this scenario, a fact that is in stark contrast to God's presence when He rescued the Jews from the Egyptians.

How are day and night contrasted in Night?

The sun breaks through at times in the narrative when hope emerges. For example, on multiple occasions in Section 1, the moods of the Jews of Sighet are revived or altered when the sun comes out. When the Jews of Sighet are moved from one ghetto to another, Eliezer says, "At daybreak, the gloom had lifted. The mood was more confident." At this point in the narrative, everyone is healthy enough to maintain a degree of hope. Night, in contrast, both brings and symbolizes tragedy and the loss of faith. For example, when Eliezer's father is called to a meeting in Section 1, he returns near midnight with the news of deportation. Upon arrival at Auschwitz in Section 3, Eliezer notes, "Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed." He refers to the Kabbalah he once studied; the mystical work describes the "seals," or secret signs, that must be revealed on the passage through fire to God. Because holocaust refers to a sacrifice by burning, Eliezer describes the way in which the Holocaust destroyed his life as a long night's passage through fire.

Why does crossing the Hungarian border have a great impact on Eliezer and the Jews of Sighet in Night, Section 2?

The border crossing represents the complete loss of hope for Sighet's Jews, who have heard a rumor they are being deported to work in brick factories in Hungary. Only the president of the Jewish Council knows their true destination, and he isn't allowed to reveal it. Once the cattle cars leave Sighet and then Hungary, however, a realization sets in: "We were not staying in Hungary. Our eyes were opened. Too late." At this point they realize that all the warnings they have ignored were true. As the German officer who enters the car and talks to them reveals, they are now completely at the mercy of their German captors.

What is the significance of Madame Schächter's treatment at the hand of her fellow Jews in Night, Section 2?

Madame Schächter has already been personally devastated by the time the Jews of Sighet are being transported to Auschwitz. Her husband and two of her sons were taken from her. When she screams out about seeing a fire, the Jews quickly go from pitying her to insisting she be silenced. Her own son is quiet, while others hit and gag her. Just like Moshe the Beadle, those who speak the truth are considered mad and are silenced. The Jews cannot fathom the horror to come and instead turn on one of their own. Madame Schächter's treatment underscores the theme that family ties break down in the face of the unimaginable.

Why is the separation of men and women upon arrival at the concentration camp in Night, Section 3 so upsetting for Eliezer?

Just as Madame Schächter is crushed when her family is broken apart, Eliezer is in shock when he and his father must leave his mother and sisters Hilda, Bea, and Tzipora. Eliezer is just 14, and he relies on his mother in many ways. To have his mother and sisters unceremoniously taken away with no time for farewells is heartbreaking. It also shows his naïveté. He has no way of knowing yet that only those fit to work will survive or, as the adult Wiesel points out from the perspective of the future, that it is the last time he will see his mother and Tzipora.

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