'Night' Quotes

Elie Wiesel's novel reveals horrific concentration camp experiences

Elie Wiesel Standing Amongst Bookshelves
Elie Wiesel standing amongst bookshelves.

Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images

"Night," by Elie Wiesel, is a work of Holocaust literature with a decidedly autobiographical slant. Wiesel based the book—at least in part—on his own experiences during World War II. Though just a brief 116 pages, the book has received considerable acclaim, and the author won the Nobel Prize in 1986.

Wiesel wrote the book as a novel narrated by Eliezer, a teenage boy taken to the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The character is clearly based on the author.

The following quotes show the searing, painful nature of the novel, as Wiesel tries to make sense of one of the worst human-made catastrophes in history.

Night Falls

"The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it." (Chapter 1)

Eliezer's journey into hell began with a yellow star, which the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Inscribed with the word Jude—"Jew" in German—the star was a symbol of Nazi persecution. It was often a mark of death, as the Germans used it to identify Jews and send them to concentration camps, where few survived. Eliezer thought nothing of wearing it at first, because he was proud of his religion. He didn't know yet what it represented. The journey to the camps took the form of a train ride, Jews packed into pitch-black rail cars with no room to sit down, no bathrooms, no hope.

" 'Men to the left! Women to the right!' ... Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother." (Chapter 3)

Upon entering the camps, men, women, and children were usually segregated; the line to the left meant going into forced enslavement and wretched conditions, but temporary survival. The line to the right often meant a trip the gas chamber and immediate death. This was the last time Wiesel would see his mother and sister, though he didn't know it at the time. His sister, he recalled, was wearing a red coat. Eliezer and his father walked past many horrors, including a pit of burning babies.

" 'Do you see that chimney over there? See it? Do you see those flames? (Yes, we did see the flames.) Over there—that's where you're going to be taken. That's your grave, over there.' " (Chapter 3)

The flames rose 24 hours a day from the incinerators. After the Jews were killed in the gas chambers by Zyklon B, their bodies were immediately taken to incinerators to be burned into black, charred dust.

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed ... Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never ... I did not deny God’s existence, but I doubted his absolute justice." (Chapter 3)

Wiesel and his alter ego witnessed more than anyone, let alone a teenage boy, should ever have to see. He had been a devout believer in God, and he still didn't doubt God's existence, but he doubted God's power. Why would anyone with that much power allow this to happen? Three times in this short passage Wiesel writes “Never shall I forget.” This is an anaphora, a poetic device based on repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses to emphasize an idea, which here is the book's main theme: never forget.

Utter Loss of Hope

"I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time." (Chapter 4)

At this point Eliezer was truly hopeless. He had lost a sense of himself as a human being. He was only a number: prisoner A-7713.

“I’ve got more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He’s the only one who’s kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.” (Chapter 5)

Hitler's "final solution" was to extinguish the Jewish population. Millions of Jews were being killed, so his plan was working. There was no organized global resistance to what Hitler was doing in the camps.

"Whenever I dreamed of a better world, I could only imagine a universe with no bells." (Chapter 5)

Every aspect of the prisoners' lives was controlled, and the signal for each activity was the ringing of bells. For Eliezer, paradise would be an existence without such awful regimentation: hence, a world without bells.

Living With Death

"We were all going to die here. All limits had been passed. No one had any strength left. And again the night would be long." (Chapter 7)

Wiesel, of course, did survive the Holocaust. He became a journalist and Nobel Prize-winning author, but it wasn't until 15 years after the war ended that he was able to describe how the inhuman experience in the camps had turned him into a living corpse.

"But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched it, I might perhaps have found something like—free at last!"​ (Chapter 8)

Eliezer's father, who was in the same barracks as his son, was weak and near death, but the horrific experiences that Eliezer had endured had left him bereft, unable to react to his father's condition with humanity and familial love. When his father finally died, removing the burden of keeping him alive, Eliezer—much to his later shame—felt liberated from that burden and free to focus only of his own survival.

"One day I was able to get up, after gathering all my strength. I wanted to see myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me." (Chapter 9)

These are the novel's last lines, clearly delineating Eliezer's sense of abject despair and hopelessness. He sees himself as already dead. Also dead to him is innocence, humanity, and God. For the real Wiesel, however, this sense of death did not continue. He survived the death camps and dedicated himself to keeping humanity from forgetting the Holocaust, to preventing such atrocities from occurring, and to celebrating the fact that mankind is still capable of goodness.

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