Night, by Elie Wiesel, was published in its new translation from French to English in 2006 by Hill and Wang of New York. It is an autobiographical story of Wiesel’s teen years in a Nazi death camp during World War II.
Wiesel begins his tale in 1941 as war rages in Europe. He is a 13-year-old Jew in Transylvania. He is extremely religious and becomes a friend to an equally religious outcast named Moishe, who seems to hold the key to Judaic mysticism. The poor man, Moishe, is a foreign Jew. Though he is poor he is well liked by the local people of the village of Sigher. He and young Elie study the Torah though Elie set his sights on the study of the Kabbalah. Elie is the third child and only son of a cultured man who tries to dissuade his son from this mysticism, telling him that there are no masters in the village and that he is too young (Wiesel 4). Elie comes to learn that the poor Moishe is a skilled and able teacher and together the two begin Elie’s initiation into the mysteries.
Moishe is arrested as the war progresses, ostensibly to be deported. The Jewish community quickly forgets about him and the others like him. They convince themselves that Moishe is in a good place and content with his lot in this life. When he later returns to the small village he tells Elie that the Nazis took the trainload of Jews into the forest, made them dig a trench for their grave and then machine-gunned them, tossing babies into to the air for target practice (Wiesel 7). Moishe survived by feigning death. No one, including Elie, wanted to believe his story. It was expedient to feign disbelief. A comparison is seen between God’s intervention in the sacrifice of Isaac and His lack of intervention in the annihilation of the Jews during this period in history. The Jews of the village of Sigher buried their heads in the sand and chose not to believe the rumors of Nazi and Hungarian police atrocities. Some in the village accused Moishe of lying and some claimed to believe he was mad. Moishe was desperate to be believed because he thought he could change what he knew was sure to come. However, he was not believed and he was right in what he thought would happen. The Jews were warned but they refused to accept what, in hindsight, seems to be perfectly clear (Muller 50).
At last the facts can no longer be ignored. Elie tries desperately to get his father to liquidate his business and flee but the Russian army is said to be defeating the Germans and they convince themselves that the Germans are no longer a threat. They are wrong, of course, and the Germans enter their village. A barbed-wire fenced ghetto is laid out and then a smaller one is added. Then came the forced deportations. Bruce Pauley’s From Prejudice to Persecution: A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism states that anti-Jewish sentiment and persecution has its roots in Christianity, where fundamentalists revile Jews as ‘Christ Killers’, and cite Judas Iscariot as a typical Jew (Pauley 3). The Germans are studiously polite to the Jews, Wiesel says, and hide what is a rabid anti-Semitism.
Night’s first chapter sets the stage for the removal of Wiesel and his family to a German concentration camp. Elie sees his father cry for the first time in his life as they are forced from their home. The chapter closes with the first forced march into the smaller ghetto being accomplished. This chapter is the opening salvo in a tale of tested faith, ultimately drawing parallels between the plight of the Jews in the middle of the 20th century and the ancient Jewish Captivity in Babylon and Egypt. The naiveté of the Jewish community is astounding, given what is known today. Yet even with this innocence Wiesel still seems to be admitting that there is more than a hint of wishful thinking behind the decisions made by the Jewish community to do nothing in the face of damning evidence that they are in danger.
Muller, F. Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers Chicago:
Ivan R. Dee Publishers 1999
Pauley, B. From Prejudice to Persecution: A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism
United States: The University of North Carolina Press 1992
Wiesel, E. Night New York: Hill and Wang 2006