Night Book Report

Night Book Report

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     Eliezer is a 12-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy living with his family in the Transylvanian town of Sighet. Eliezer is the only son of the family, and his parents are shopkeepers. His father is a highly respected within Sighet’s Jewish community. Eliezer also 2 older sisters, Hilda and Béa, and a younger sister named Tzipora. Eliezer is taught Jewish mysticism under Moshe, a local pauper.

In 1944 German armies occupy Hungary, and soon move into Sighet. Jewish community leaders are arrested, valuables are confiscated, and all of the Jews are then forced to wear yellow stars. The Jews were all gathered into small ghettos, and soon after, the Germans began to deport them to Auschwitz. Eliezer’s family is among the last to leave Sighet and it is then Eliezer began his horrible experience as being apart of the Holocaust.

     During this long and painful experience, Eliezer questioned his faith more than once. Before he and his family were forced onto the camps, Eliezer’s studies in Jewish mysticism taught him that if God is good and He is everywhere, than the whole world must therefore be good. But his faith in the world is broken by the cruelty and evil he witnesses during the Holocaust. He wonders how God would even let such an evil take place, he feels that if the world is so sick and cruel, than God must also be sick and cruel or not exist at all.

Moshe is asked why he prays and replies, “I pray to the God within me that He will give me strength to ask him the right questions.” Meaning, questioning is a fundamental to the idea of faith in God. The horrible experiences of the Holocaust force Eliezer to ask questions about the nature of good and evil and about weather God exits or not. But the fact he asks these questions reflects his commitment to God.

     Eliezer not only suffers from experiences Nazi persecution, but also cruelty he sees fellow prisoners inflict on each other, and becomes aware of the cruelty of which he himself is capable. Everything he experiences shows how horribly people can treat one another, which troubles him.

The Nazis are the first insensible cruelty Eliezer experiences. Though, when they first appear, they do not seem terrible in any way shape or form. Eliezer recounts, “Our first impressions of the Germans were most reassuring. . . Their attitude toward their hosts was distant, but polite.

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” It is hard to understand how human beings could slaughter millions of innocent victims.

Another bizarre fact Eliezer discovers is how cruelty breeds cruelty. Instead of comforting each other in a time of difficulty, the prisoners respond to their circumstances by turning against one another. A Kapo says to Eliezer, “Here, every man has to fight for himself and not think of anyone else. . . Here, there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends. Everyone lives and dies for himself alone.” It is very surprising that a remark like this is even made since Kapos were themselves prisoners placed in charge of other prisoners. They enjoyed a relatively better (though still horrendous) quality of life in the camp, but they aided the Nazi mission and often behaved cruelly toward prisoners. Eliezer refers to them as “functions of death.” The Kapos’ position symbolizes the way the Holocaust’s cruelty bred cruelty in its victims, turning people against each other, as self-preservation became the highest virtue.

Elizer is disgusted with the horrific selfishness he sees around him. On 3 occasions, he mentions sons horribly mistreating fathers: in his brief discussion of the pipel who abused his father; his terrible conclusion about the motives of Rabbi Eliahou’s son; and his narration of the fight for food that he witnesses on the train to Buchenwald, in which a son beats his father to death. All of these moments of cruelty are provoked by the conditions the prisoners are forced to endure. In order to save themselves, these sons sacrifice their fathers.

     Eliezer states, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.” It is the idea of God’s silence that he finds most troubling, as this description of an event at Buna reveals: as the Gestapo hangs a young boy, a man asks, “Where is God?” yet the only response is “total silence throughout the camp.” Eliezer and his companions are left to wonder how an all-knowing, all-powerful God can allow such horror and cruelty to occur, especially to such faithful worshipers. The existence of this horror, and the lack of a divine response, forever shakes Eliezer’s faith in God.
It is worth noting that God’s silence during the hanging of the young boy recalls the story of the Binding of Isaac—found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 22). God decides to test the faith of Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham does not doubt his God, and he ties Isaac to a sacrificial altar. He raises a knife to kill the boy, but at the last minute God sends an angel to save Isaac. The angel explains that God merely wanted to test Abraham’s faith and, of course, would never permit him to shed innocent blood. Unlike the God in Night, the God in the Binding of Isaac is not silent.
Night can be read as a reversal of the Isaac story: at the moment of a horrible sacrifice, God does not intervene to save innocent lives. There is no angel swooping down as masses burn in the crematorium or as Eliezer’s father lies beaten and bloodied. Eliezer and the other prisoners call out for God, and their only response is silence; during his first night at Birkenau, Eliezer says, “The Eternal. . . was silent. What had I to thank Him for?” The lesson Eliezer learns is the opposite of the lesson taught in the Bible. The moral of the Binding of Isaac is that God demands sacrifice but is ultimately compassionate. During the Holocaust, however, Eliezer feels that God’s silence demonstrates the absence of divine compassion; as a result, he ultimately questions the very existence of God.
There is also a second type of silence operating throughout Night: the silence of the victims, and the lack of resistance to the Nazi threat. When his father is beaten at the end of his life, Eliezer remembers, “I did not move. I was afraid,” and he feels guilty about his inaction. It is implied throughout the story that silence and passivity are what allowed the Holocaust to continue.
Only in the lowest moments of his faith does Eliezer turn his back on God. Even when Eliezer says that he has given up on God completely, constant religious metaphors show what Eliezer says he believes. Eliezer even refers to biblical passages when he denies his faith. When he fears that he might abandon his father, he prays to God, and, after his father’s death, he expresses regret that there was no religious memorial.

     At the end of the book, even though he has been forever changed by his Holocaust experience, Eliezer emerges with his faith intact. By reading this novel I can say that Night is itself an attempt to break the silence, to tell loudly and boldly of the atrocities of the Holocaust and, in this way, to try to prevent anything so horrible from ever happening again.
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