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Elie Wiesel

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Night | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


Why is it significant that Eliezer lies about his age and profession when questioned by Dr. Mengele in Night, Section 3?

The seemingly innocuous act of lying about his age and profession sets the stage for Eliezer's survival. The Jews' only way to escape the crematorium and instant death is to be useful to the Nazis. If the Nazis feel the prisoners are capable of working, they allow them to survive. Eliezer comes to this understanding after an inmate advises him to say he is 18 and not 15. Raising his age to adulthood and saying he is a farmer, a physically demanding profession, makes Eliezer appear more fit for work. These lies save Eliezer and allow him to escape the crematorium. His father takes the same advice, saying he is 40 instead of 50, and also survives. The interaction is one of the rare times in which a fellow inmate tries to help Eliezer and his father. It is an example of dramatic irony: a kind, selfless act is based on advice to be deceitful; the advice, in turn, leads to survival.

Why is it surprising that the first bit of anger Eliezer feels in Night, Section 3 is toward God?

Eliezer is a person of faith and believes in an all-powerful God who cares for his people. In his belief system, everything comes from God and is attributed to Him. On entering Auschwitz, Eliezer witnesses families being broken apart and babies tossed into flaming pits, and learns about the crematorium. He then feels anger when other inmates pray and glorify God's name. Readers might wonder why Eliezer's anger isn't directed toward the Nazis for perpetuating these horrors. But he is more horrified that God allows these atrocities to occur. His anger shows that he is waking to the challenges and limitations of faith.

What is the effect of the repeated phrase "Never shall I forget" in Night, Section 3?

In this passage, Wiesel repeats "Never shall I forget" seven times, naming his first night in camp, the smoke, the faces of the children consigned to the fire, the flames, the silence that "deprived [him] ... of the desire to live," the moments that "murdered [his] God and ... soul." He ends by saying, "Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never." The repeated phrase, told from the perspective of the adult writer looking back, is a rhetorical device. Each repetition drives home his passionate commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust. At the same time, in the passage Wiesel uses the "Never shall I forget" construction to both speak of the destruction of his faith and acknowledge God's existence. He says the flames have "consumed [his] faith forever" and the moments "murdered [his] God," yet he closes by referring to God's eternal being. The use of the same phrase to hold two contradictory views encapsulates the struggle with faith that pervades the memoir.

In Night, Section 3 what is the effect of the depersonalization of the inmates by the Nazis?

The Nazis see the Jews as subhuman; this justifies the Nazi treatment of their Jewish victims. One way to dehumanize a group is to remove their individuality. The Nazis go about this in three ways: removing the Jews' hair, replacing their names by tattooing numbers on their arms, and providing them with identical ill-fitting clothing. This depersonalization of the inmates is consistent with the stages of genocide that were characterized in 1996 by Gregory Stanton, who was president of Genocide Watch. He described predictable stages perpetrated by oppressors on their victims. The Nazis have already carried out the first two stages: classification (segregating the Jews as a different racial and social class) and symbolization (branding them with the Star of David). They now practice dehumanization: denying the humanity of the Jews. The other stages are already in place: organization, polarization, preparation, extermination. The final stage, denial, would come with the end of the war.

Why does Eliezer initially believe Auschwitz is not real in Night, Section 3 and why is this significant?

During his first night in Auschwitz, Eliezer pinches himself to ensure he is still alive and not having a nightmare. He can't believe the world could keep silent when people are being burned. His father confirms what he doesn't want to believe: the world isn't interested in the fate of Europe's Jews. While the Jews of Sighet were certainly naive, the scene confirms that the world's silence allows them to stay that way. No one has provided them any warning other than Moshe the Beadle, who appears mad to them. The scene forces the reader to consider how civilized nations could stay quiet in the face of such horror.

In Night, Section 3 how do the Nazis treat the new prisoners during the first night they are in Auschwitz, and how does this treatment affect them?

The prisoners are rushed off the train and quickly forced in multiple directions. Orders are barked at them and blows from various weapons rain down on them. Soldiers holding machine guns, clubs, and revolvers are positioned every few feet. Their acts of violence, including shooting an old man and pitching babies into a flaming pit, are done openly. As the prisoners witness these terrible sights and are treated as such, they become disoriented and afraid. The effect is to quell those few "tough young men" who might consider attacking the armed guards. Thrust into hellish scenes of violence, the inmates quickly begin to obey their captors.

Why does Eliezer stand silently after his father is slapped and knocked down by the gypsy inmate in Night, Section 3?

Eliezer is motivated only by fear. Overwhelmed by the horrors he has seen, he has been cowed into nonaction. While he is shocked at the treatment his father receives, Eliezer chooses self-preservation. He quickly recognizes he has no power in the situation, and any action he takes will only make things worse for his father and himself. Eliezer has come to this realization in a single day. "Only yesterday," he thinks, he would have tried to retaliate. He has witnessed the son of Madame Schächter remaining silent as the Jews on the train beat her. Bearing witness to her beating caused him to quickly internalize and model such behavior to increase his chance of avoiding similar treatment.

In Night, Section 3 why does Eliezer mention the weather as he recalls all that happened when he first was sent to Auschwitz?

Eliezer throws in seemingly benign information while explaining the ordeal of his first night and day in the concentration camp. He says, "It was spring. The sun was shining." The weather report reminds the reader that the day was like any other day to the Nazis. Many years later, the sunny day represents what would be called the "banality of evil." The phrase was coined in a 1963 report on the trial of a Nazi official, Adolf Eichmann, who organized the "Final Solution"; it describes the belief of perpetrators of evil that they are merely following orders. For the Nazis, the horrors of the camp are business as usual on a beautiful day in May.

Why does Eliezer lie to his relative, Stein, in Night, Section 3?

Just prior to the scene with Stein, Eliezer and the others are given advice by a kapo who says, "Help each other. That is the only way to survive." There are few ways to help each other in the camps, as the men have nothing to give. One thing Eliezer can and does give to Stein is hope. In the seemingly hopeless situation that is Auschwitz, Eliezer helps his relative believe his family is alive. While Stein eventually finds out the truth after a prisoner transport arrives from Antwerp, for that little while he thinks his family is alive, he is revived; he weeps with joy.

In Night, Section 4 what does Eliezer mean when he says, "The stomach alone was measuring time"?

The men are poorly fed and are slowly starving to death. They are surviving on small portions of bread, soup, and coffee. As Eliezer's stay in the camps lengthens, his hunger increases. He is getting to the point where all he cares and thinks about is food. Slowly starving the men is one of the worst cruelties perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jewish prisoners. They become desperate for food and will do anything to get it, risking their lives and committing acts of inhumanity in order to eat. Any other way of measuring time ceases to matter when all one's energy must go into survival.

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