Night (book)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

book cover
1982 Bantam Books edition, with the original 1960 translation, and a cover adapted from the 1958 French design by Rasaurdie
AuthorElie Wiesel
Original titleLa Nuit
TranslatorStella Rodway (for MacGibbon & Kee, 1960)
Marion Wiesel (for Hill & Wang 2006, Oprah Book Club)
SubjectThe Holocaust
GenreMemoir, novel
Published1956: longer version published in Buenos Aires in Yiddish by Mark Turkov, as Un di Velt Hot Geshvign
1958: in Paris by Les Editions de Minuit as La Nuit
1960: in New York by Hill & Wang, and in London by MacGibbon & Kee, as Night
Pages116 (1960)
ISBNISBN 0-553-27253-5 (Bantam Books, 1982)
ISBN 0-374-50001-0 (Hill & Wang/Oprah Book Club paperback, 2006)
Followed byDawn, Day
Jump to: navigation, search
book cover
1982 Bantam Books edition, with the original 1960 translation, and a cover adapted from the 1958 French design by Rasaurdie
AuthorElie Wiesel
Original titleLa Nuit
TranslatorStella Rodway (for MacGibbon & Kee, 1960)
Marion Wiesel (for Hill & Wang 2006, Oprah Book Club)
SubjectThe Holocaust
GenreMemoir, novel
Published1956: longer version published in Buenos Aires in Yiddish by Mark Turkov, as Un di Velt Hot Geshvign
1958: in Paris by Les Editions de Minuit as La Nuit
1960: in New York by Hill & Wang, and in London by MacGibbon & Kee, as Night
Pages116 (1960)
ISBNISBN 0-553-27253-5 (Bantam Books, 1982)
ISBN 0-374-50001-0 (Hill & Wang/Oprah Book Club paperback, 2006)
Followed byDawn, Day

Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the parent–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver. "If only I could get rid of this dead weight ... Immediately I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed forever." In Night everything is inverted, every value destroyed. "Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends," a Kapo tells him. "Everyone lives and dies for himself alone."[1][2]

Wiesel was 16 years old when Buchenwald was liberated by the United States Army in April 1945, too late for his father, who died after a beating while Wiesel lay silently on the bunk above for fear of being beaten too. Having lost his faith in God and mankind, he vowed not to speak of his experience for ten years. In 1954 he wrote an 865-page manuscript in Yiddish, published in Argentina as the 245-page Un di Velt Hot Geshvign ("And the World Remained Silent"), after which the French novelist François Mauriac persuaded him to write for a wider audience.[3][4]

Even with Mauriac's help, finding a publisher was not easy – they said it was too morbid – but in 1958 Les Editions de Minuit published a 178-page edition in France as La Nuit, and in 1960 Hill & Wang published 116 pages in the United States as Night. Fifty years later the book had been translated into 30 languages, and now ranks as one of the bedrocks of Holocaust literature. It remains unclear how much of Wiesel's story is memoir. He has called it his deposition, but scholars have had difficulty approaching it as an unvarnished account. The literary critic Ruth Franklin writes that the pruning of the text from Yiddish to French transformed an angry historical account into a work of art.[5]

Night is the first book in a trilogy – Night, Dawn and Day – reflecting Wiesel's state of mind during and after the Holocaust. The titles mark his transition from darkness to light, according to the Jewish tradition of beginning a new day at nightfall. "In Night," he said, "I wanted to show the end, the finality of the event. Everything came to an end – man, history, literature, religion, God. There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with night."[6]


Sighet, Transylvania

Elie Wiesel was born on 30 September 1928 in Sighet, a town in the Carpathian mountains of northern Transylvania, to Chlomo Wiesel, a shopkeeper, and his wife, Sarah, née Feig. The family lived in a community of 10,000–20,000 mostly Orthodox Jews. Northern Transylvania had been annexed by Hungary in 1940, and restrictions on Jews were already in place, but the period Wiesel discusses at the beginning of the book, 1941–1943, was a relatively calm one for the Jewish population.[7]

That changed at midnight on Sunday, 18 March 1944, with the invasion of Hungary by Nazi Germany, and the arrival in Budapest of SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann to oversee the deportation of the country's Jews.

German tank in Budapest, Hungary, October 1944
Sighet old town in 2009; the town is now known as Sighetu Marmației, part of Romania

From 5 April Jews over the age of six had to wear a 3.8 x 3.8 inch (10 x 10 cm) yellow badge on the upper left side of their coats or jackets.[8] Jews had to declare the value of their property, and were forbidden from moving home, travelling, owning cars or radios, listening to foreign radio stations, or using the telephone. Jewish authors could no longer be published, their books were removed from libraries, and Jewish civil servants, journalists and lawyers were sacked.[9]

As the Allies prepared for the liberation of Europe, the mass deportations began at a rate of four trains a day from Hungary to Auschwitz, a forced-labour and extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, each train carrying around 3,000 people.[10] Between 15 May and 8 July 1944, 437,402 Hungarian Jews are recorded as having been sent there on 147 trains, most gassed on arrival. The transports comprised most of the Jewish population outside Budapest, the Hungarian capital.[11]

From 16 May until 27 June, 131,641 Jews were deported from northern Transylvania.[12] Wiesel, his parents and sisters – older sisters Hilda and Beatrice and seven-year-old Tzipora – were among them. On arrival Jews were "selected" for the gas chamber or forced labour; to be sent to the left meant work, to the right, the gas chamber.[13] Sarah and Tzipora were sent to the gas chamber. Hilda and Beatrice survived, separated from the rest of the family. Wiesel and Chlomo managed to stay together, surviving forced labour and a death march to another concentration camp, Buchenwald, near Weimar in Germany. Chlomo died there in January 1945, three months before the 6th Armored Division of the United States Army arrived to liberate the camp.[14]

Wiesel's story as told in Night

Moshe the Beadle

Further information: Kamianets-Podilskyi Massacre
Elie Wiesel, aged 15, 1943–1944

Night opens in Sighet in 1941. The book's narrator is Eliezer, a pious Orthodox Jewish teenager who studies the Talmud by day and by night "weep[s] over the destruction of the Temple." To the disapproval of his father, Eliezer spends time discussing the Kabbalah and the mysteries of the universe with Moshe the Beadle, caretaker in a Hasidic shtiebel (house of prayer).[15]

In June 1941 the Hungarian government expelled Jews unable to prove their citizenship. Moshe, a foreigner, is crammed onto a cattle train and taken to Poland. He manages to escape, saved by God, he believes, so that he might save the Jews of Sighet. He returns to the village to tell what he calls the story of his own death, running from one household to the next: "Jews, listen to me! It's all I ask of you. No money. No pity. Just listen to me!"[16]

He tells them that when the train crossed into Poland it was taken over by the Gestapo, the German secret police. The Jews were transferred to trucks and driven to a forest in Galicia, near Kolomaye, where they were forced to dig pits. When they had finished, each prisoner had to approach the hole, present his neck, and was shot. Babies were thrown into the air and used as targets by machine gunners. He tells them about Malka, the young girl who took three days to die, and Tobias, the tailor who begged to be killed before his sons; and how he, Moshe, was shot in the leg and taken for dead. But the Jews of Sighet would not listen, making Moshe Night's first unheeded witness.[17]

He's just trying to make us pity him. What an imagination he has! they said. Or even: Poor fellow. He's gone mad.

And as for Moshe, he wept.[18]

Sighet ghettos

Further information: Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe
Wiesel's father, Chlomo

The Germans arrived in Sighet around 21 March 1944, and shortly after Passover (8–14 April that year) arrested the community leaders. Jews had to hand over their valuables, were not allowed to visit restaurants or leave home after six in the evening, and had to wear the yellow star at all times. Eliezer's father makes light of it:

The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it ...

(Poor Father! Of what then did you die?)[19]

The SS transfer the Jews to one of two ghettos, each with its own council or Judenrat. Eleizer's house on Serpent Street was in the larger ghetto in the town centre, so his family were able to stay in their home, though because it was on a corner, the windows on the non-ghetto side had to be boarded up.

The house in Sighet where Wiesel was born, photographed in 2007. The house was in the larger of the two ghettos, so the family were allowed to stay in their home, but the windows on the non-ghetto corner had to be boarded up.

The barbed wire which fenced us in did not cause us any real fear. We even thought ourselves rather well off; we were entirely self-contained. A little Jewish republic ... We appointed a Jewish Council, a Jewish police, an office for social assistance, a labor committee, a hygiene department – a whole government machinery. Everyone marveled at it. We should no longer have before our eyes those hostile faces, those hate-laden stares. Our fear and anguish were at an end. We were living among Jews, among brothers ...

The general opinion was that we were going to remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Then everything would be as before. It was neither German nor Jew who ruled the ghetto – it was illusion.[20]

In May 1944 the Judenrat is told the ghettos will be closed with immediate effect and the residents deported. Eleizer's family is first moved to the smaller ghetto, but they are not told their final destination, only that they may each take a few personal belongings. The Hungarian police, wielding truncheons and rifle butts, march Eleizer's neighbours through the streets. "It was from that moment that I began to hate them, and my hate is still the only link between us today."[16]

The larger Sighet ghetto in May 1944 after the deportations[21]
Here came the Rabbi, his back bent, his face shaved ... His mere presence among the deportees added a touch of unreality to the scene. It was like a page torn from some story book ... One by one they passed in front of me, teachers, friends, others, all those I had been afraid of, all those I once could have laughed at, all those I had lived with over the years. They went by, fallen, dragging their packs, dragging their lives, deserting their homes, the years of their childhood, cringing like beaten dogs.[22]


Further information: Auschwitz concentration camp

Eliezer and his family are crammed into a closed cattle wagon with 80 others. On their third night in the wagon, one woman, Madame Schächter – Night's second unheeded witness – becomes hysterical, screaming that she can see flames, until she is beaten into silence.

Men and women are separated on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, which was both the reception and extermination camp within the Auschwitz complex. Eliezer and his father are "selected" to go to the left, which meant forced labour; his mother, Hilda, Beatrice and Tzipora to the right, the gas chamber. Hilda and Beatrice managed to survive. He learned years later that his mother and Tzipora went straight to the gas chamber.

Arrival of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May or June 1944[13]

Men to the left! Women to the right!

Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. ... For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sisters moving away to the right. Tzipora held Mother's hand. I saw them disappear into the distance; my mother was stroking my sister's fair hair ... and I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever.[23]

The remainder of Night describes Eliezer's efforts not to be parted from his father, not even to lose sight of him; his grief and shame at witnessing his father's decline into helplessness; and as their relationship changes and the young man becomes the older man's caregiver, his resentment and guilt, because his father's existence threatens his own. The stronger Eliezer's need to survive, the weaker the bonds that tie him to other people.

His loss of faith in human relationships is mirrored in his loss of faith in God. During the first night, as he and his father wait in line, he watches a lorry deliver its load of children into the fire. While his father recites the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead – Wiesel writes that in the long history of the Jews, he does not know whether people have ever recited the prayer for the dead for themselves – Eliezer considers throwing himself against the electric fence. At that moment he and his father are ordered to go to their barracks. But Eliezer is already destroyed. "[T]he student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in the flames. There remained only a shape that looked like me."[24]

There follows a passage that Ellen Fine writes contains the main themes of Night – the death of God and innocence, and the défaite du moi, or dissolution of the self, a recurring motif in Holocaust literature:[25]

One of the Sonderkommando photographs: members of the Sonderkommando burn corpses at Auschwitz in 1944

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 that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. 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.[26]

With the loss of self goes Eliezer's sense of time: "I glanced at my father. How he had changed! ... So much had happened within such a few hours that I had lost all sense of time. When had we left our houses? And the ghetto? And the train? Was it only a week? One night – one single night?"[27]


Further information: Monowitz concentration camp

In or around August 1944 Eliezer and his father are transferred from Birkenau to the work camp at Monowitz (also known as Buna and Auschwitz III), their lives reduced to the avoidance of violence and the search for food. "Bread, soup – these were my whole life. I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach."[28] Their only joy is when the Americans bomb the camp.

God is not lost to Eliezer entirely. During the hanging of a child, which the camp is forced to watch, he hears someone ask: Where is God? Where is he?[29] Not heavy enough for the weight of his body to break his neck, the boy dies slowly. Wiesel files past him, sees his tongue still pink and his eyes clear.

I. G. Farben plant at Buna

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: Where is God now?

And I heard a voice within me answer him: ... Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.[30]

Fine writes that this is the central event in Night, a religious sacrifice – the binding of Isaac and crucifixion of Jesus – that Alfred Kazin described as the literal death of God.[31] Afterwards the inmates celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, but Eliezer cannot take part.

Auschwitz I, II and III, June 1944

Blessed be God's name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? ...

But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.[32]

The only trusted figure left was Hitler, according to one inmate: "He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people."[33]

Death march

Further information: Death marches (Holocaust)

In January 1945, with the Soviet army approaching, the Germans decide to flee, taking 60,000 inmates on a death march to concentration camps in Germany. Eliezer and his father are marched to Gleiwitz to be put on a freight train to Buchenwald, a camp near Weimar, 350 miles (563 km) from Auschwitz.

Pitch darkness. Every now and then, an explosion in the night. They had orders to fire on any who could not keep up. Their fingers on the triggers, they did not deprive themselves of this pleasure. If one of us had stopped for a second, a sharp shot finished off another filthy son of a bitch.

Near me, men were collapsing in the dirty snow. Shots.[34]

Resting in a shed after marching 50 miles (80 km), Rabbi Eliahou asks if anyone has seen his son. They had stuck together for three years, "always near each other, for suffering, for blows, for the ration of bread, for prayer," but the rabbi had lost sight of him in the crowd and was now scratching through the snow looking for his son's corpse. "I hadn't any strength left for running. And my son didn't notice. That's all I know."[35] Eleizer doesn't tell the man that his son had indeed noticed his father limping, and had run faster, letting the distance between them grow.

And, in spite of myself, a prayer rose in my heart, to that God in whom I no longer believed. My God, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou's son has done.[36]

The inmates spend two days and nights in Gleiwitz locked inside cramped barracks without food, water or heat, sleeping on top of one another, so that each morning the living wake with the dead underneath them. There is more marching to the train station and onto a cattle wagon with no roof, and no room to sit down until other inmates make space by throwing the dead onto the tracks. They travel for ten days and nights, with only the snow falling on them for water. Of the 100 in Eleizer's wagon, 12 survive the journey.

I woke from my apathy just at the moment when two men came up to my father. I threw myself on top of his body. He was cold. I slapped him. I rubbed his hand, crying:

Father! Father! Wake up. They're trying to throw you out of the carriage ...

His body remained inert ...

I set to work to slap him as hard as I could. After a moment, my father's eyelids moved slightly over his glazed eyes. He was breathing weakly.

You see, I cried.

The two men moved away.[37]

Buchenwald, liberation

Further information: Buchenwald concentration camp

The Germans are waiting with loudhailers and orders to head for a hot bath. Wiesel is desperate for the heat of the water, but his father sinks into the snow. "I could have wept with rage ... I showed him the corpses all around him; they too had wanted to rest here ... I yelled against the wind ... I felt I was not arguing with him, but with death itself, with the death he had already chosen."[38]

Buchenwald concentration camp

An alert sounds, the camp lights go out, and Eliezer, exhausted, follows the crowd to the barracks, leaving his father behind. He wakes at dawn on a wooden bunk, remembering that he has a father, and goes in search of him.

But at that same moment this thought came into my mind. Don't let me find him! If only I could get rid of this dead weight, so that I could use all my strength to struggle for my own survival, and only worry about myself. Immediately I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed forever.[39]

His father is in another block, sick with dysentery. The other men in his bunk, a Frenchman and a Pole, attack him because he can no longer go outside to relieve himself. Eliezer is unable to protect him. "Another wound to the heart, another hate, another reason for living lost."[38]

Begging for water one night from his bunk, where he has lain for a week, Chlomo is beaten on the head with a truncheon by an SS officer for making too much noise. Eliezer lies in the bunk above and does nothing for fear of being beaten too. He hears his father make a rattling noise, "Eliezer." In the morning, 29 January 1945, he finds another man in his father's place. The Kapos had come before dawn and taken Chlomo to the crematorium.[40]

Buchenwald, 16 April 1945: Wiesel, second row, seventh from the left, days after the camp was liberated

His last word was my name. A summons, to which I did not respond.

I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched for it, I might perhaps have found something like – free at last![41]

Chlomo missed his freedom by three months. The Soviets had liberated Auschwitz 11 days earlier, and the Americans were making their way towards Buchenwald. Eliezer is transferred to the children's block where he stays with 600 others, dreaming of soup. On 5 April 1945 the inmates are told the camp is to be liquidated and they are to be moved – another death march.

On 11 April, with 20,000 inmates still inside, a resistance movement inside the camp attacks the remaining SS officers and takes control. At six o'clock that evening, an American tank arrives at the gates, and behind it the Sixth Armored Division of the United States Third Army.[42]

Writing and publishing

1954: Un di Velt Hot Geshvign

Wiesel wanted to move to Palestine after his release, but because of British immigration restrictions was sent instead by the Oeuvre au Secours aux Enfants (Children's Rescue Service) to Belgium, then Normandy. In Normandy he learned that his two older sisters, Hilda and Beatrice, had survived.[14]

From 1947–1950 he studied the Talmud, philosophy and literature at the Sorbonne, attending lectures by Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Buber. He also taught Hebrew and worked as a translator for the Yiddish weekly Zion in Kamf. In 1948, at the age of 19, he was sent to Israel as a war correspondent by the French newspaper L'arche, and after the Sorbonne he became chief foreign correspondent of the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.[14]

For ten years he kept his story to himself. In 1979 he wrote: "So heavy was my anguish that I made a vow: not to speak, not to touch upon the essential for at least ten years. ... Long enough to regain possession of my memory. Long enough to unite the language of man with the silence of the dead."[43] In 1954 he starting writing on board a ship to Brazil where he had been assigned to cover Christian missionary activity in Jewish communities.[44]

I wrote feverishly, breathlessly, without rereading. I wrote to testify, to stop the dead from dying, to justify my own survival ... My vow of silence would soon be fulfilled; next year would mark the tenth anniversary of my liberation ... The pages piled up on my bed. I slept fitfully, never participating in the ship's activities, constantly pounding away on my little portable, oblivious of my fellow passengers ... [44]

By the end of the journey he had completed an 862-page manuscript that he called Un di Velt Hot Geshvign ("And the World Remained Silent").[45] On the ship he was introduced to Yehudit Moretzka, a Yiddish singer who was travelling with Mark Turkov, a publisher of Yiddish texts. Turkov saw the manuscript and asked if he could read it. Wiesel wrote that he handed Turkov his only copy.[46]

It was published in 1956 in Buenos Aires as Un di Velt Hot Geshvign by Turkov's Tzentral Varband fun Polishe Yidn in Argentina (Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina). Turkov published 245 pages of Wiesel's manuscript. It was the 117th book in a 176-volume series of Yiddish memoirs of Poland and the war, Dos poylishe yidntum (Polish Jewry, 1946–1966).[47] The other books in the series were essentially memorials to the victims, but Ruth Wisse writes that Un di Velt Hot Geshvign stood out as a "highly selective and isolating literary narrative" influenced by Wiesel's reading of the French existentialists.[48]

1958: La Nuit

The book attracted no interest and Wiesel continued with his journalism. In May 1955 he decided to interview the French prime minister, Pierre Mendès-France, and approached the novelist François Mauriac, a friend of Mendès-France, for an introduction. He writes: "The problem was that [Mauriac] was in love with Jesus. He was the most decent person I ever met in that field – as a writer, as a Catholic writer. Honest, sense of integrity, and he was in love with Jesus. He spoke only of Jesus. Whatever I would ask – Jesus. Finally, I said, 'What about Mendès-France?' He said that Mendès-France, like Jesus, was suffering ... "[49]

When he said Jesus again I couldn't take it, and for the only time in my life I was discourteous, which I regret to this day. I said, "Mr. Mauriac," we called him Maître, "ten years or so ago, I have seen children, hundreds of Jewish children, who suffered more than Jesus did on his cross and we do not speak about it." I felt all of a sudden so embarrassed. I closed my notebook and went to the elevator. He ran after me. He pulled me back; he sat down in his chair, and I in mine, and he began weeping. I have rarely seen an old man weep like that, and I felt like such an idiot ... And then, at the end, without saying anything, he simply said, "You know, maybe you should talk about it."[49]

Wiesel translated Un di Velt Hot Geshvign into French, but even with Mauriac's connections they had difficulty finding a publisher, until Jérôme Lindon of Les Editions de MinuitSamuel Beckett's publisher – agreed to handle it.[49] He edited the 245-page Yiddish edition down to 178 pages, and published it as La Nuit, dedicated to Chlomo, Sarah and Tzipora, with a preface by Mauriac.[50]

1960: Night

Gravestone in Sighet for those deported to Auschwitz in 1944, photographed in June 2007

Wiesel's New York agent, Georges Borchardt, encountered the same difficulty finding a publisher in the United States.[51] According to Wiesel: "Some thought the book too slender (American readers seemed to prefer fatter volumes), others too depressing (American readers seemed to prefer optimistic books). Some felt that its subject was too little known, others that it was too well known."[52]

In 1960 Arthur Wang of Hill & Wang – who Wiesel writes "believed in literature as others believe in God" – agreed to pay a $100 pro-forma advance, and published a 116-page English edition in New York in September that year as Night, translated by Stella Rodway of MacGibbon & Kee in London.[53] Wiesel was working at the time as the United Nations correspondent for Israeli newspapers and the Jewish Daily Forward in New York. It took three years to sell the first print run of 3,000 copies. The first 18 months saw 1,046 copies sell at $3 each, but the book attracted interest from reviewers, leading to television interviews and meetings with literary figures like Saul Bellow.[54]

By 1997 Night was selling 300,000 copies a year in the United States, and by 2011 had sold six million copies in that country, and was available in 30 languages.[55] Sales increased in January 2006 when it was chosen for Oprah's Book Club. It was republished with a new translation by Wiesel's wife, Marion, and a new preface by Wiesel. From February 13 that year, it was no. 1 in The New York Times bestseller list for paperback non-fiction for 18 months until the Times decided to remove it. The Oprah Book Club edition, with over two million sales, became its third overall bestseller.[56][57][58]


Memoir or novel

Wiesel called Night his deposition.[59] Reviewers have nevertheless had difficulty reading it as an eyewitness account.[60] It has been called a novel, autobiography, autobiographical novel, non-fictional novel, semi-fictional memoir, fictional-autobiographical novel, fictionalized autobiographical memoir and memoir-novel.[61][62] Ellen Fine calls it témoignage (testimony).[63] Lawrence Langer writes:

Sighet's remaining synagogue, 2007
Plaques on the house in Sighet in which Wiesel was born
Wiesel's account is ballasted with the freight of fiction: scenic organization, characterization through dialogue, periodic climaxes, elimination of superfluous or repetitive episodes, and especially an ability to arouse the empathy of his readers, which is an elusive ideal of the writer bound by fidelity to fact.[64]

Ruth Franklin writes that Night's impact stems from its minimalist construction. The Yiddish version was an angry historical work. In preparation for the French edition, Wiesel's publisher pruned without mercy.[65] "By refusing to add the rationality of explanation or the cynicism of hindsight," she writes, "Night takes us back to its terrible story with something resembling innocence, the innocence of a young boy who, like most of the rest of the Jews of Europe, had no idea what was coming. To read it is to lose one's own innocence about the Holocaust all over again."[66] She argues that the power of the narrative was achieved at the cost of literal truth, and that to insist that the work is purely factual is to ignore its literary sophistication.[67]

Naomi Seidman, professor of Jewish culture, wrote a comparative analysis of the Yiddish and French texts, concluding that Night transforms the Holocaust into a religious event, the abdication of God. She argues that there were two Holocaust survivors in Night, a Yiddish and a French.[68] In re-writing rather than simply translating Un di Velt Hot Geshvign, Wiesel replaced an angry survivor who regards "testimony as a refutation of what the Nazis did to the Jews," with one "haunted by death, whose primary complaint is directed against God," rather than the Nazis or humankind.[69]

For example, in the Yiddish edition, when Buchenwald was liberated some of the male survivors went into town to "fargvaldikn daytshe shikses" ("rape German shiksas [non-Jewish women]"), while in the French and English editions, they "coucher avec les filles", "sleep with girls." Seidman argues that the Yiddish version was for Jewish readers, who wanted to hear about revenge, but the anger was removed for the largely Christian readership of the French translation.[70]

When the original was written

There is confusion about the origin of the work. Wiesel has implied that he first began to write after his May 1955 meeting with François Mauriac. He said in 1996: "[Mauriac] took me to the elevator and embraced me. And that year, the tenth year, I began writing my narrative. After it was translated from Yiddish into French, I sent it to him."[71]

In All Rivers Run to the Sea (1994), Wiesel writes that the first version was completed in 1954 on a boat en route to Brazil. He wrote that he handed the original 862-page manuscript – his only copy – to Mark Turkov, the Argentine publisher, on the boat, who published it in 1956 as a 245-page edition in Yiddish.[72] Although Turkov said he would return the manuscript, Wiesel writes that he did not see it again. But later in Rivers he says that he "cut down the original manuscript from 862 pages to the 245 of the published Yiddish edition."[73]

Truth and memory

Elie Wiesel, May 2010

Franklin writes that Oprah Winfrey's promotion of Night came at a difficult time for the genre of memoir, after a previous book-club author, James Frey, was found to have fabricated parts of his autobiography, A Million Little Pieces. She argues that Winfrey's choice of Night may have been intended to restore the book club's credibility with a work that the literary critic Al Alvarez described as "beyond criticism."[66]

Franklin writes that Night has a useful lesson to teach about the complexities of memoir and memory, and that the story of how it came to be written reveals how many factors come into play in creating a memoir: "the obligation to remember and to testify, certainly, but also the artistic and even moral obligation to construct a true persona and to craft a beautiful work ... truth in prose, it turns out, is not always the same thing as truth in life."[74]

Wiesel tells a story about a visit to a Rebbe, a Hasidic rabbi, he hadn't seen for 20 years. The Rebbe is upset to learn that Wiesel has become a writer, and wants to know what he writes. "Stories," Wiesel tells him, " ... true stories":

About people you knew? "Yes, about people I might have known." About things that happened? "Yes, about things that happened or could have happened." But they did not? "No, not all of them did. In fact, some were invented from almost the beginning to almost the end." The Rebbe leaned forward as if to measure me up and said with more sorrow than anger: That means you are writing lies! I did not answer immediately. The scolded child within me had nothing to say in his defense. Yet, I had to justify myself: "Things are not that simple, Rebbe. Some events do take place but are not true; others are – although they never occurred."[75]


  1. ^ Fine, Ellen S. (1982). Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel. State University of New York Press. p. 7. 
  2. ^ Wiesel, Elie (1982). Night. Bantam Books. pp. 101, 105. ISBN 0-553-27253-5. 
  3. ^ Wiesel, Elie (1994). All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs. Schocken Books. pp. 241, 219. 
  4. ^ Franklin, Ruth (2011). A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction. Oxford University Press. p. 90. 
  5. ^ Ruth Franklin, "A Thousand Darknesses", The New Republic, 23 March 2006; "Elie Wiesel", Academy of Achievement, 29 June 1996.
  6. ^ Sanford V. Sternlicht, Student Companion to Elie Wiesel, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, p. 29; for the quote, Morton A. Reichek, "Elie Wiesel: Out of the Night," Present Tense, Spring 1976, p. 46, cited in Fine 1982.
  7. ^ Fine 1982, p. 13.
  8. ^ Randolph Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, Wayne State University Press, 2000 [1981], p. 102.
  9. ^ Braham 2000, p. 101.
  10. ^ Braham 2000, p. 135.
  11. ^ Michael Berenbaum, "Foreword," in Randolph L. Braham, Scott Miller (eds.), The Nazis' Last Victims: The Holocaust in Hungary, Wayne State University Press, 2002, p. 9.
  12. ^ "Transylvania", Yad Vashem.
  13. ^ a b "The Auschwitz Album", Yad Vashem.
  14. ^ a b c Fine 1982, p. 5.
  15. ^ "Moshe" in Night, Hill & Wang 1960 and Bantam Books 1982; "Moishele" and "Moishe" in All Rivers Run to the Sea, 1994, pp. 59, 60, 319; "Moishe" in Night, Hill & Wang 2006.
  16. ^ a b Night 1982, p. 17.
  17. ^ Sternlicht 2003, p. 30; Fine 1982, p. 13.
  18. ^ Night 1982, pp. 4–5.
  19. ^ Night 1982, p. 9.
  20. ^ Night 1982, pp. 9–10.
  21. ^ "Elie Wiesel, First Person Singular", Public Broadcasting Service, 2002.
  22. ^ Night 1982, pp. 14–15.
  23. ^ Night 1982, p. 27.
  24. ^ Night 1982, p. 34.
  25. ^ Fine 1982, pp. 15–16.
  26. ^ Night 1982, p. 32.
  27. ^ Night 1982, p. 34; Fine 1982, pp. 15–16.
  28. ^ Night 1982, p. 50.
  29. ^ Night 1982, p. 61.
  30. ^ Night 1982, pp. 61–62.
  31. ^ Fine 1982, p. 28; Alfred Kazin, Contemporaries, Little, Brown & Co, 1962, p. 297.
  32. ^ Night 1998, p. 64; Franklin 2011, p. 80.
  33. ^ Night 1982, p. 78.
  34. ^ Night 1982, p. 81.
  35. ^ Night 1982, p. 86.
  36. ^ Night 1982, p. 87.
  37. ^ Night 1982, p. 94.
  38. ^ a b Night 1982, p. 100.
  39. ^ Night 1982, p. 101.
  40. ^ Night 1982, pp. 102–105.
  41. ^ Night 1982, p. 105.
  42. ^ Night 1982, pp. 107–109.
  43. ^ Elie Wiesel, "An Interview Unlike Any Other", 1979, in A Jew Today, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010, p. 23.
  44. ^ a b Wiesel 1994, p. 240.
  45. ^ Wiesel 1994, p. 319.
  46. ^ Wiesel 1994, p. 241.
  47. ^ Alan Rosen, "Elie Wiesel," in S. Lillian Kremer (ed.), Holocaust Literature: An Encyclopedia of Writers and Their Work, Volume III, Taylor & Francis, 2002, p. 1315ff; for the year of publication, pp. 1315, 1316.
  48. ^ Ruth R. Wisse, The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture, University of Chicago Press, 2003, pp. 212–213.
  49. ^ a b c "Elie Wiesel", interview with Wiesel, Academy of Achievement, 29 June 1996.
  50. ^ Wiesel 1996, pp. 319, 333.
  51. ^ Gary Weissman, Fantasies of Witnessing: Postwar Efforts to Experience the Holocaust, Cornell University Press, 2004, p. 65.
  52. ^ Wiesel 1994, p. 325.
  53. ^ Wiesel 1994, p. 325; Gertrude Samuels, "When Evil Closed in: Night", The New York Times, 13 November 1960.
  54. ^ "Winfrey selects Wiesel's 'Night' for book club", Associated Press, 16 January 2006.
  55. ^ Weissman 2004, p. 65; Franklin 2011, p. 69.
  56. ^ Memmott, Carol (16 January 2006). "Oprah picks 'Night'". USA Today. 
  57. ^ Book, Jason (23 May 2011). "Oprah Winfrey Closes Her TV Book Club". GalleyCat. 
  58. ^ That the Times removed the book from the bestseller list as an "evergreen," Franklin 2011, p. 71.
  59. ^ Wiesel 1994, p. 79.
  60. ^ Wyatt, Edward (19 January 2006). "The Translation of Wiesel's 'Night' Is New, but Old Questions Are Raised". The New York Times. 
  61. ^ Weissman, Gary (2004). Fantasies of Witnessing: Postwar Efforts to Experience the Holocaust. pp. 65–67. ISBN 9780801442537. 
  62. ^ Schwarz, Daniel R. (1999). Imagining the Holocaust. St. Martin's Press. 
  63. ^ Fine 1982, p. 7.
  64. ^ Lawrence L. Langer, "The Dominion of Death," in Harold Bloom (ed.), Elie Wiesel's Night, Infobase Publishing, 2001, p. 16. Also see Lawrence L. Langer, The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, Yale University Press, 1975.
  65. ^ Franklin 2006.
  66. ^ a b Franklin 2011, p. 71.
  67. ^ Franklin 2011, p. 16.
  68. ^ Naomi Seidman, "Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish Rage", Jewish Social Studies, New Series, 3(1), Autumn 1996, pp. 1–19.
  69. ^ Peter Manseau, "Revising Night: Elie Wiesel and the Hazards of Holocaust Theology", Killing the Buddha, April 2001.
  70. ^ Seidman 1996, p. 6.
  71. ^ "Elie Wiesel", Academy of Achievement, 29 June 1996; Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 312, n. 69.
  72. ^ Wiesel 1994, p. 241; Seidman 1996, pp. 3–4.
  73. ^ Wiesel 1994, p. 241: "As we talked, Turkov noticed my manuscript, from which I was never separated. ... It was my only copy, but Turkov assured me that it would be safe with him."

    Wiesel 1994, p. 277: "In December I received from Buenos Aires the first copy of my Yiddish testimony, And the World Stayed Silent, which I had finished on the boat to Brazil. The singer Yehudit Moretzka and her editor friend Mark Turkov had kept their word – except that they never did send back the manuscript." Wiesel 1994, p. 319: "I had cut down the original manuscript from 862 pages to the 245 of the published Yiddish edition."

  74. ^ Franklin 2011, p. 73.
  75. ^ Elie Wiesel, Legends of Our Time, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011 [1967], p. viii.

Further reading