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Elie Wieselís Night and the Holocaust

Dave Buyers

Honors American Studies


Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Introduction...............................................2

General introduction of Work of Literature and Topic

Rationale for Choosing Work of Literature and Topic

Aesthetic Response

Brief Definition of Key Terms

Chapter 2: Review of Sources.....................................3

Preliminary Research Questions

Review of Sources

Chapter 3: Historical Context......................................4

Historical Setting of Work of Literature

Political and Social Impact

Chapter 4: Original Literary Analysis...........................8

Original Analysis

Comparison of Critical Response

Literary Biography Relevant to the Original Analysis

Chapter 5: Application to Contemporary Issue...........11

Identification of Contemporary Issue

Disscussion of Connections to the Work of Literature

List of Works Cited...................................................13


In this research paper, the Holocaust is discussed in reference to author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wieselís well know novel Night. The Holocaust was a horrific atrocity that effected countless numbers of people. Wieselís novel provides a new and unique way for the reader to become informed about the event, and experience it through the eyes of the victim.

This book was chosen as the focus of the paper because it has an extraordinary effect on its audience. Wiesel is able to connect with the reader on a common ground, allowing the book to have a more successful impact on the reader.

In order to begin the research process, questions were generated that would help focus on more specific issues. during this process, many sources were consulted from different backgrounds. Critics, experts on the issue, and survivors were all consulted to gain information.

In Chapter Three, responses to the questions dealing with the historical setting of the novel, in this case the Holocaust, are given. The political and social impact the work had on the time it was written is also discussed. This information is supported by various sources.

The imagery that is used in Wieselís Night is key to the impact that it has on the reader. He is able to connect with the human feelings of his audience and truly show what it was like to be in such situations as he was during World War II. Heís able to bring his audience closer to understanding the issue in its entirety by showing his point of view.

The recent conditions in Kosovo are much like those of the Holocaust during World War II. Although on a smaller scale, Serbs in Kosovo are being oppressed by others because of their differing beliefs. Night shows the perspective of those oppressed, perhaps giving oppressors a better look at what they are doing.

Chapter 1: Introduction

General Introduction of Work of Literature and Topic

The Holocaust is known as one of the most horrifying acts against humanity that the world has ever known. Night by Elie Wiesel is an autobiographical fiction that follows his own survival through the Nazi death camps during World War II.

Rationale for Choosing Work of Literature and Topic

Night was chosen as the focus of this paper because it stood out most from all the other books that have been read and discussed this year this. Wiesel was able to take an event known for its massive impact on millions of people, and show it through the eyes of only one individual. Night had an impact on how this terrible time in world history was viewed and increased the understanding of the horror which it depicts.

Aesthetic Responses

The first thing that was noticed when reading this novel was how well Wiesel was able to convey his feelings and emotions. In the past, the general public has really only been presented with general facts and statistics about the Holocaust, but this novel it makes it much easier to see a more personal perspective. One was able to imagine himself in Wieselís place and, by doing this, found a better understanding of the great impact that this event had on each individual.

Brief Definition of Key Terms

Several key terms from Night are not common knowledge (1)Cabbala: A body of mystical teachings of rabbinical origin, often based on an esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. (2)Maimonides: Spanish-born Jewish philosopher and physician. The greatest Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, he codified the Talmud and in Guide for the Perplexed (1190) reconciled Aristotelian philosophy with Jewish theology. (3)Zohar: Cabalistic books (4)Kaddish: A prayer that is recited in the daily synagogue services and by mourners after the death of a close relative. (5)Gestapo: A police organization that employs terrorist methods to control a populace.

Chapter 2: Review of Sources

Preliminary Research Questions

This research paper addresses several specific aspects of the Holocaust. Questions were generated that would help focus this research before the process even began. It was questioned how Elie Wieselís Night gives the reader a better feel of the personal impact of the Holocaust. In order to get a better idea of daily life for the victims, life in the ghettos was also a focus. The most recognizable symbols of the Holocaust were also contemplated. The swastika became a particular interest, regarding its derivation and meaning. Once in the camps, life was much different compared to that of the ghettos, so it was determined that daily life for prisoners of concentration camps should also be examined.

Review of Sources

A wide variety of sources were used to support statements made in this paper as well as to gain background information about more specific issues. Robert Alter, Lothar Kahn, and Leon Wiesettier are all published critics whose articles appear in the Contemporary Literary Criticism published by Gale Research Company. Servando Gonzáles is a man who has done extensive study on the origin and the meanings of the swastika. Leigh Hopper is a reporter for the Houston Post, in Houston, Texas and has had the chance to interview Elie Wiesel. Alexander Kimel is a survivor of the Holocaust. Although never taken to a concentration camp, he and his family did spend time in the ghettos. Jennifer Rosenberg has done very extensive research online about the holocaust and many of its aspects. She makes all of this information available on the Internet. Finally, Rudy is a survivor of the Holocaust as well. His last name is never mentioned. He has survived through both the ghettos and the concentration camps. He makes his accounts of Auschwitz available on the Internet.

Chapter 3: Historical Context

Historical Setting of the Work of Literature

"I cannot compare anything to the Holocaust. It was aimed at the extinction of every Jew, every last one"(Williams), said Elie Wiesel, author of Night and a survivor of the Holocaust. This time in world history changed many lives forever, and had a great impact on the future. Six million people were killed as a result of Nazi power in Europe, because of their differences and beliefs. Jewish prisoners were forced to endure horrible circumstances by the Naziís. The Naziís slowly dehumanized the Jewish population, taking not only their possessions, but their dignity and basic rights as human beings as well.

One of the first things that people think of when they hear the word "Nazi" or "Holocaust" is the Swastika. The Swastika had originally been known for "centuries as a symbol of peace, laughter, joy and good luck"(González 2) by many ancient civilizations. It seems ironic that it was then used to represent Hitlerís Nazi party, and meant exactly the opposite for all who were oppressed by it. "Leaving the swastika in Nazi hands is the worst disservice we can do to the Indians of North, Central and South America. Moreover, it is a disservice to the peoples of Tibet, India and China. It is a disservice to the Basque, to the French, to the Greek, to the Swiss, to the Japanese and to the Irish. It is a disservice to the Ashanti of Africa and to the Tlingit of Alaska; to the Cuna in Panama and to the Navajo and the Hopi in the United States"(González 2).

The daily routine at such camps as Auschwitz was by no means easy. "Upon arrival to Auschwitz, prisoners were given numbers to remove any sense of personal identity"(Rosenberg). Prisoners were fed only what they needed to stay alive. According to Rudy, a survivor of the holocaust, "[They] were each given two slices of bread and sometimes a pat of margarine or a bit of marmalade. The coffee was toasted acorns ground up. It tasted terrible." Every morning, prisoners were lined up for counting. This process sometimes took hours. "We did not know that Auschwitz was an extermination camp....We saw a large chimney belching smoke 24 hours a day," explained Rudy. But despite this terrible environment, children tried to make the best of the situation. "My younger brother had hidden a book by the German poet Goethe....We memorized it. We had a deck of cards. We played card games. There wasnít anything else we could do," he writes. The remainder of the time spent in the camps was filled with excruciating forced labor. Conditions in the camps were unbearable. Those who walked away alive were lucky to do so.

But before they even got to there camps, the Jewish population was forced to live in specially designated areas called ghettos. This is where they would stay until they were deported. "Life in the ghetto was physically and emotionally draining," wrote Alexander Kimel, a survivor who lived in the ghettos. "Almost every day I was sent slave labor assignments like cleaning sewers, digging ditches or working on the railroad" (Kimel). If anyone should leave the ghetto, he or she risked his or her life. The Nazis showed no sympathy whatsoever towards the Jewish population. "Buying a quart of milk was wrought with danger. They catch you and you are dead" (Kimel 2). Conditions were virtually the same in all ghettos. In the ghetto of Lodz, second in size only to Warsaw, "Jews became targets for beatings, robberies, and seizure of property within four days of Lodz's occupation"(Rosenberg 1) When the Jewish population was forced into ghettos, the slow and steady process of dehumanization by the Nazis had already been started. Nazis would slowly take away rights and dignity of Jews, making them accustomed to feelings of inferiority and worthlessness, so they would be easier to handle later by not resisting the oppression the Nazis inflicted.

Prisoners had left the ghettos with some possessions, but had to leave many of their belongings behind. What they left was eventually either sold or destroyed. The Nazis showed no remorse for sentimental value when they threw property into the streets. "After a deportation action, groups of Jewish men were assigned the task of clearing out the homes of the deported" (Rosenberg 4). Nazis filled crates of valuable property that belonged to the prisoners. "The crates were hidden in nearby caves along with other boxes of confiscated belongings" (Rosenberg 5). Even wedding bands and fillings were seized. What was of no value was destroyed.

Political and Social Impact

The well known novel Night by Elie Wiesel was an autobiographical fiction of his experiences during the Holocaust. Wieselís story is much like many other survivors. He and his family were taken from their home and relocated to a ghetto. His mother and sister were killed in Auschwitz, and he and his father were taken to various other camps in Europe. He is the only surviving member of his family.

Wiesel receives so much attention because of the fact that he is one of the few outspoken survivors of the Holocaust and is willing to talk and write for that matter, about his experiences. "Wiesel, 63, has written 36 books and is regarded today as one of the worlds most important Jewish leaders and moral authorities" (Hopper). Night had a social impact on society because it gave readers an eye witness account of one personís terrible experiences during the Holocaust. When asked if it is possible to convey the horror of what he went through to others Wiesel said, "No, unfortunately not. And yet you must bring them close to the gate....Even if you come close to the gate, that is enough....We can make a difference in human attitudes" (Hopper 2). This is exactly what he has been able to accomplish. Elie Wiesel has used his experiences to try to give others a sense of just how terrible the Holocaust really was for those who were oppressed.

Many people who are survivors on the Holocaust have trouble talking about their experiences. Those who are willing to share their personal accounts with the public tell horrific stories about what happened to them during this terrible ordeal. Day to day life was exhausting in both the ghettos and the concentration camps. Nazis showed no mercy. Their families were torn apart, their possession taken and destroyed; life must have seemed like a nightmare. Elie Wiesel's novel Night had a great impact on society because it gave the public a personal perspective of the Holocaust. There are very few people who have presented their stories in such an moving way to the rest of the world as Wiesel has, making his story very special. The Holocaust had a great impact on many lives, but people like Elie Wiesel devote their lives to making sure that the world will never forget what happened. 

Chapter 4: Original Literary Analysis

Original Analysis

The well known novel Night by Elie Wiesel is a moving autobiographical fiction of his experiences during the Holocaust. Elie and his family lived a typical lifestyle in Europe during World War II. Soon they would be sent to the ghettos, and from there, the concentration camps, just like many other Jewish families. Elie and his father would then alone after the loss of his mother and sister, and travel to various camps throughout Europe. Ultimately, Elie is the only one to survive. Wiesel uses such an extraordinary level of imagery that his account unfolds before the reader as though her or she was a part of it. In this novel it seems as though there is no outside world, only the horror which he is a part of. In Night, Wiesel leaves little to the imagination, and hides nothing from his audience, which makes his novel all the more powerful.

During World War II, Wiesel and his family were taken from their home in Sighet, Transylvania. He was able to endure the hardships the Holocaust imposed on his family and, through his strength and will, was able to survive. Wiesel is not alone, but he is one of the few who has chosen to retell his story to the public, and for this, he has received much attention. Not many people have come forth, since the time the Holocaust ended, to share their horrific stories with the rest of the world. Wiesel is able to present his story in such an clear way through imagery, that he is able to connect with the reader on a humanistic level. Wieselís moving story has stimulated much impact on society and he is seen as an important authority in the Jewish community for the remembrance of the Holocaust.

Wiesel has written 36 books, but it is only in Night that he retells his own personal experiences that he survived during the Holocaust. Through this book he has been able to give readers a much more personal perspective on the terror that took place during these years. Before, much of what the general public has known about the Holocaust has been general facts and statistics. But now, Wiesel makes it possible for his audience to view the same event through the victimís eyes. It is Important that one see the event from all points of view, so one can completely understand the issue, and come closer to understanding the emotional impact that it had.

Wiesel retells his story in such vivid detail that the reader is surrounded with the horrifying mental pictures of what he had gone through. Through these visions Wiesel conveys the emotion that makes his story so moving. "Before the fact of the Holocaust, perhaps only a great visionary poet like Dante could thoroughly imagine such a gruesome reality; after the fact, it still requires a peculiar imaginative courage to abandon all the defenses of common sense in order to remember and reconstitute in language such a reality"(Alter 526). Wiesel is able to convey his experiences in such a clear and eloquent manner that it hits the reader on an intense emotional basis. "Reading his feels the inexpressible nausea and revulsion that a simple recitation of statistics never manages to arouse"(Turan 570). For example, in Night, Wiesel tells the reader of a boy he remembered who played a very somber song on a violin as they walked by on a march. He then recalls later seeing the violin destroyed and laying in the snow. Images like these have an extraordinary impact. It is hard to read through much before putting oneself into the same situation as Wiesel. How he goes about conveying his thoughts and feelings implants strong mental pictures in the readerís mind. These images are very personal, yet quite disturbing as well.

There seems to be no other world in Night besides the hardships and the suffering that Elie and his family are forced to endure. Nothing exists besides life inside the camps. The reader hears nothing of any other historical events from the time period and there is very little mention of the war itself, that is going on in the background. "In Wiesel's case, the world seems to contain only three classes of people, each with its own kind of guilt of simplicity: executioners, victims, and spectators at the execution"(Alter 526). This adds to the victimís feeling of total seclusion from the rest of humanity. If there was much mention of events taking place in the outside world, this effect would have been lost. Instead, Wiesel focuses only on his experiences and life inside the camps. Besides the Holocaust, there is really little data one can use to identify in what time period the novel takes place. The reader is left alone with the thoughts and burdens of the narrator, Elie, without interference from external events.

Wiesel doesnít hold anything back from the reader as he describes the horrific reality that he experienced. "He is able to confront the horror with a nakedly self-exposed honesty rare even among writers who went through the same ordeal" (Alter 526). This honesty and courage in his writing presents much sharper images in the mind of the reader, and allows a truly undiluted perspective to be seen, straight from the mind of the man who endured these atrocities. "It was only in Night that he disclosed the horrors of Auschwitz as he had personally experienced them" (Kahn 527). Wiesel has a talent in Night to let his audience become lost in the world that he creates. To find someone who is willing to write about the experiences from the Holocaust is hard, but to find someone that will depict the ordeal as vividly as Wiesel seems close to impossible.

The imagery used in Night is powerful and moving because of the closeness the reader is able to share with Wiesel on a human level. Wiesel expresses his true feelings in the novel, and one sympathizes with him. Wiesel shuts out the rest of the world and focuses on the ordeal of his family, and their struggle to live and find liberty. Night "is undoubtedly the single most powerful relic of the Holocaust" (Wiesettier 529) because of the connection Wiesel is able to establish between him and his audience by using such intense imagery. 

Chapter 5:Application to Contemporary Issue(s)

Identification of Contemporary Issue

Night was a terrifying depiction of the Holocaust, which was one of the most brutal acts of genocide in history. This is very much related to the events of the last few months that have been occurring in Kosovo. Although on a much smaller scale, people are being killed because of their beliefs in Kosovo and Serbia, just as they were during the Holocaust.

During World War II, six million people were killed because they didnít fit into the mold of Hitlerís "perfect human being," the Aryan race. This included Jews, people with disabilities, people of different race, and many more. For years these people were tormented by acts of prejudice and inequality. The culmination of this was the Holocaust; the extermination of all people who didnít fit the standard.

In 1996 a militant ethnic Albanian separatist group formed in the region. Tensions began to rise between Albanians and Serbian forces, resulting in violence that continues today. In 1997 the group took a more active role against continued oppression by the Serbs. They began killing Serbs in Kosovo, and eventually were able to establish control over areas within the province. Currently, UN and NATO forces are working to try and reestablish peace between these two countries, but the violence continues.

Disscussion of Connections to the Work of Literature

Both the Holocaust and the more recent conflicts in Kosovo are acts of genocide taking place because certain people hold certain beliefs. Both acts, although very different in size, are quite similar. Elie Wiesel experienced the Holocaust first hand, and today assists in the aid to help the oppressed in this terrible situation. One would assume that by looking at past events such as the Holocaust, it would be impossible that still today, in what is considered a time of advancement and high intellect, the world would still be plagued by similar problems. It seems hard for people not to see something wrong with the oppression otherís beliefs. Night, by showing the reader the perspective of the victim, allows those to see the same situation through the eyes of the oppressed. Maybe this technique will help demonstrate that such action is wrong.

Many times in history, people have been persecuted for illegitimate reasons. The victims of the holocaust were persecuted because they were considered inferior by the Nazis and the "Aryan race." Most recently, Serbs in Kosovo have been tormented by an Albanian separatist group because of their differing beliefs. One thing that should be learned from these events and others like them in the 20th century is tolerance. "Itís simple. We must prevail in our teaching and say that no religion, no nation, no one person superior to another"(Williams) said Elie Wiesel, which is a very good perspective to take. Wiesel had experienced such injustice during the holocaust, and retold his story in Night. Although not as massive as events like the Holocaust, such atrocities still exist today.  

List of Works Cited

Alter, Robert. "Between Hangman and Victim." Originally published in After the Tradition. Dutton, 1962 in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Detroit: Gale research Co., 1975: 626.

González, Servando. "The Swastika and the Nazis." 20 February 2000. <>

Hopper, Leigh. "Elie Wiesel still a strong voice for human rights." Houston Post (13 November 1991).

Kahn, Lothar. "Neo-Hasidim." Originally published in Mirrors of the Jewish Mind: Gallery of Portraits of European Jewish Writers of Our Time. Barnes, 1963 in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1975: 527.

Kimel, Alexander. "Alexander Kimel-Holocaust Understanding and Prevention" 12 June 1992. 20 February 2000. <>

Rosenberg, Jennifer. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1997. 5 February 2000. <>

Rudy. "What the camps were like, told through the eyes of people who suffered through them." 20 February 2000. <>

Turan, Kenneth. "An Elegant Teller of Tales." Originally published in Book World-The Washington Post. 8 August 1976, p.F7. In Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 13 Ed. Dedria Bryfinski. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1979: 570.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. Translated by Stella Rodway. New York: Bantam,1960.

Wiesettier, Leon. "History as Myth." Originally published in Commentary, 1974, in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 3. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1975: 529.

Williams, Roger. "Authors fight with hate never ends." Fort Myers News-Press (20 January 1996).