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Elie Wiesel

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Night | Section 1 | Summary



In 1941 Eliezer is nearly 12 years old. He lives in a small town, Sighet, which is located in Transylvania, Romania. Eliezer's family consists of himself, two older sisters, one younger sister, and his parents. They are religious Jews, and he studies religious texts and prays regularly. Moshe the Beadle is also a resident of Sighet. He is a poor man and an expert in Kabbalah, a Jewish mystical text. Against his father's wishes, Eliezer studies with Moshe the Beadle, who encourages him to think about new things. Shortly after the two begin studying together, Moshe and the other foreign Jews of Sighet are expelled from Sighet. The people of the town are upset at this development, but things go back to normal shortly thereafter.

A few months later, Moshe the Beadle returns to Sighet and tells the Jews about Nazi atrocities in which people are forced to dig mass graves and are then shot. Moshe wants to warn everyone, but the Jews think he is crazy. Life goes on as before. Eliezer asks his father to move to Palestine, but his father says he is too old.

In the spring of 1944 the Fascists gain control of Hungary. The Fascist political movement has appeared in many countries during World War II and shares some common characteristics, such as extreme militaristic nationalism and the belief that an individual's interests should be subordinated to the good of the nation. Shortly thereafter, the Nazis are in Sighet, and conditions become progressively worse for the Jews. They face harsh laws, their valuables are taken, and they are forced into ghettos. Finally, they are ordered to be deported via cattle cars to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. They are given one day to prepare. Eliezer and his family are part of the last contingent deported to the main Auschwitz camp.


Faith is the foundation of Eliezer's existence. He cries during prayer and weeps over the destruction of the Temple. He is desperate to learn a text even when his father tells him not to. When asked why he prays, Eliezer finds the question confounding. It's equivalent to asking him why he lives or breathes. However, Eliezer is unable to articulate an answer. This inability foreshadows the loss of faith that occurs when he cannot understand why God would let the Jews suffer such atrocities during the war.

There are a few occasions in the first section and throughout the book when the author breaks character. The book focuses on Eliezer's experiences during the war, yet on these occasions the author focuses on his current perspective to show regret and question the choices Eliezer and his family make. For example, in Section 1, Eliezer reveals there is a knock at the window that the family is unable to answer, and the person disappears. It was a friend of Eliezer's father, warning the family about the situation. If they had responded, Wiesel speculates, they might have been able to flee. Each of the interjections shares a what if quality, revealing the deep horror Eliezer continues to feel about his past.

To modern readers for whom world news is readily available, the Jews of Sighet might seem naive. World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust had been going on for a few years and the Jews of Sighet have received many clues about the Nazi terror, including Moshe the Beadle's eyewitness account. However, they seem unable or unwilling to react. Eliezer asks his father about going to Palestine, but when he is rejected, he does not push the issue. Their naïveté and insistence in seeing the good in situations seems to help the Nazi quest to annihilate Europe's Jews. At the same time, modern readers must consider the factors that contributed to the Jews' lack of action; travel to a new country would have required paperwork, a safe haven willing to accept them, and money.

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