The Holocaust was a time when countless Jews, and others deemed “undesirables” by Hitler and the Nazis, underwent the most cruel and inhumane persecution while trapped in concentration camps under the power of the Third Reich. Elie Wiesel’s Night is an account of his unimaginably shocking experiences in and traveling to such concentration camps as only a young boy. While Wiesel does not specify in the book why he chose the title Night, it can be assumed that it is in reference to a number of Wiesel’s most disturbing memories of events that occur at night.
However, there also seems to be an underlying denotative meaning, as the Holocaust for Wiesel and his fellow prisoners is one long night of both physical and emotional pain, suffering, and death. Wiesel is incurably traumatized as a young boy undergoing this appalling experience that is the Holocaust. As well as everyday life in the camps, this is due largely to many particular events that happen to Wiesel at night, the first of which is the ordeal with Madame Schi?? chter and the nighttime fires. A group of Jews from Wiesel’s hometown are packed into a cattle wagon by the Nazi’s and taken away from their homes.
None of them knows where they are going or what awaits them when they arrive, yet a family friend of Wiesel’s named Madame Schi?? chter rouses every night to shriek about the fires she sees outside the cattle wagon, fires that don’t exist, “Jews, listen to me! I can see a fire! There are huge flames! It is a furnace! ” (23). When she doesn’t stop, Madame Schi?? chter is bound, gagged, and eventually the other passengers “struck her several times on the head – blows that might have killed her,” in an attempt to make the bloodcurdling screams subside (24).
This impacts Wiesel to a great extent, as he is only a young boy, and this whole ordeal emotionally destroys all of those in Wiesel’s wagon, “Out terror was about to burst the sides of the train. Our nerves were at breaking point. Our flesh was creeping. It was as though madness were taking possession of us all. We could stand it no longer” (23). Wiesel not only witnesses the nightly petrifying screams of a woman he knows well, but also the brutal beating of her by others who also know her well, and are in the same situation that she is.
Experiencing an episode like this would, without a doubt, permanently scar anybody, needless to say a young boy in his early teens. This is Wiesel’s first personal encounter with anything of this sort, the type of occurrence where fellow prisoners transform into animalistic savages who turn against each other, an occurrence which becomes all too familiar in Wiesel’s near future. This is only one of many horrific, and unfortunately memorable, nighttime occurrence that Wiesel witnesses, most of which are equally terrible, if not more so.
While Wiesel experiences a great number of such events that may have influenced him in his choice of the title Night, however, it also seems as though Wiesel’s life in the concentration camps is very analogous to the common perceptions of night in the days before electricity. The night was feared mainly due to the fact that the darker side of humanity emerged at night. Night was the time when robbery, burglary, arson, murder, and other crimes were most apt to occur.
Human beings transformed into inhuman monsters, reverting to savage brutality and cruelty for selfish purposes, much like the Nazis of the Holocaust, and even many of the prisoners themselves. Although Wiesel is deeply traumatized by the Nazis and their cruelty, he seems even more deeply affected by the brutality and cruelty shown within the prisoners of the camp, to their own people and sometimes even their own families. On the train en route from Buna to Buchenwald, Wiesel witnesses a young man murdering his own father for a scrap of bread that was intended for him anyway:
“A shadow had just loomed up near him. The shadow threw itself upon him. Felled him to the ground, stunned him with blows, the old man cried: ‘Meir. Meir my boy! Don’t you recognize me? I’m your father… you’re hurting me… you’re killing your father! I’ve got some bread… for you too… for you too…. ‘ He collapsed. His fist was still clenched around a small piece… the other one threw himself upon him and snatched it” (96). This is the type of inhuman behavior Wiesel witnesses that makes this experience in the camps one long night. Murders are being committed brutally and without reason.
The darkest side of humanity is exposed, which is true both for the persecutors and the persecuted. Wiesel’s experiences in the concentration camps resemble former perceptions of night in a number of ways, and are strung together to form one long, unimaginable nightmare. Wiesel depicts in a number of ways the horrible incidents he experienced at night, as well as his experience in the camps as a whole, which seemed like one long night. And although there were countless deaths in this one long and terrible night, and memories that will never be forgotten, dawn comes again for Wiesel and the many other survivors.