Plot Summary

A Sighet

Night opens with a description of Moshe the Beadle, a poor Jew in Sighet, who is teaching Jewish mysticism to young Eliezer. After Moshe is expelled with the other foreign-born Jews, he miraculously returns to tell the Jews of Sighet that all those who were expelled have been killed. However, none of the villagers believe him, and eventually Moshe stops telling his tale. In the spring of 1944, German troops appear in Sighet, and the occupiers issue anti-Semitic decrees and establish two Jewish ghettos. Eventually, the Jews of Sighet are told that they are going to be evacuated.

The Germans pack Eliezer and his family onto a train. Madame Schacter screams every night that she sees a fire and the others try to silence her, shaken by her insanity. It is not until they approach the camp itself, and see flames, that they realize that she has predicted their fate. They have arrived at Birkenau.

B Birkenau

The guards order the men and women to separate, and Eliezer is parted from his mother and little sister forever. He and his father see little children being burned alive and Eliezer realizes that he will never forget the sight.

In the barracks, Eliezer’s father asks an SS officer where the lavatories are and the man strikes him. Eliezer does nothing for fear of being struck himself, but he vows never to forgive the striking of his father. The men are then marched to Auschwitz.

C Auschwitz

The men arrive at their block, where the prisoner in charge speaks the first human words they have yet heard. Later the men are tattooed and Eliezer becomes A-7713; he has been stripped even of his name.

A relative of Eliezer’s, Stein, manages to find them, and Eliezer lies that Stein’s wife and children are well. Stein continues to visit them occasionally, until he goes to find news of his family and Eliezer never sees him again. After three weeks, the remaining men in the block are marched to Buna, another camp.

D Buna

At Buna, the men are transferred to the musicians’ block and begin work at an electrical equipment warehouse. Eliezer befriends Tibbi and Yossi, two Zionist brothers with whom he talks of emigrating to Palestine after the war.

Idek, the Kapo, beats Eliezer for no apparent reason. A French girl wipes his bloodstained forehead and says a few comforting words. On another day, Idek beats Eliezer’s father with an iron bar, and instead of feeling anger towards Idek, Eliezer feels anger towards his father for not knowing how to avoid Idek’s blows.

The foreman, Franek, demands Eliezer’s gold crown. When Eliezer refuses, Franek begins to punish Eliezer’s father for not marching properly. Finally, father and son decide to give up the crown, which is removed by a dentist to whom Eliezer must pay a ration of bread.

On a Sunday, usually a day of rest, Eliezer finds Idek in the warehouse with a girl, and Idek has Eliezer whipped twenty-five times. On another Sunday, the camp is bombed. One man crawls towards two pots of soup and all the men watch him enviously. He dies with his body poised over the soup. The camp is not destroyed by the air raid, but it gives the men hope.

A man is hanged, and the other prisoners are forced to witness it. Later, there is another hanging, this time of a child, beloved in the camp, who has been associated with the Resistance. The child dies a slow, agonizing and silent death as the men weep. Someone in the crowd asks where God is, and Eliezer hears a voice inside him reply that God is on the gallows.

The men debate how to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, but Eliezer’s heart revolts at the thought of celebrating. On Rosh Hashanah, he finds his father and kisses his hand, silently, as a tear drops between them, knowing that they have never understood each other so clearly. Later, on Yom Kippur, the men debate whether or not they should fast. Eliezer eats, viewing it as an act of rebellion against God, but feels a great void in his heart nonetheless.

After Eliezer has been transferred to the building unit, a selection occurs. Eliezer is not selected for death, and Eliezer’s father thinks he has also passed, but after several days they find out that his number was written down. While awaiting another, decisive selection, Eliezer’s father gives him his knife and spoon. The next day, everyone is kind to Eliezer, already treating him like an orphan. When the day is over, he finds that his father has escaped the second selection, and gives him back his knife and spoon.

In wintertime, Eliezer enters the hospital for an operation on his foot. While he recovers there, he hears that the camp is being evacuated. Eliezer and his father decide to evacuate with the others. We are told that those who stayed behind in the hospital were liberated by the Russians two days after the evacuation.

The men march away from the camp, then begin to run. Those who cannot keep up are shot; others are trampled to death in the crowd. Only his father’s presence keeps Eliezer from succumbing to death. When the men are finally allowed to stop, Eliezer’s father pushes him towards a brick factory, where they agree to take turns sleeping. Rabbi Eliahou enters the factory, looking for his son: Eliezer realizes the Rabbi’s son has abandoned his father. Eliezer prays for the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done.

E Gliewitz

The men arrive at Gliewitz, trampling each other on the way into the barracks. As Eliezer lies on a pile of men, he realizes that Juliek is playing his violin, giving a concert to dead and dying men. When he wakes up, he sees Juliek’s corpse and his smashed violin beside him.

At Gliewitz, Eliezer saves his father from selection. Later, on the train, Eliezer’s father does not wake, and Eliezer slaps him back to life before the men can throw him out with the corpses. At one stop, onlookers throw bread into the cars, and the men fight each other for it. Eliezer sees a son kill his father for a crust of bread and the son, in turn, killed by other men. When they reach Buchenwald, a dozen men, including Eliezer and his father, are left in the wagon out of the hundred who began the journey.

F Buchenwald

At Buchenwald, Eliezer’s father announces that he is ready to die, but Eliezer forces him to continue on. Later, his father develops dysentery and is unable to leave his bed. Eliezer arranges to stay near his father, but when his father begs him for water, an SS clouts him on the head, and Eliezer does not move, afraid he will also be hit. Eliezer’s father’s last word is his name; the next day, he is gone. Eliezer has no more tears to weep and in his weakened conscience he feels freedom.

Eliezer is transferred to the children’s block, beyond all grief. Wiesel says nothing about the events of the rest of the winter. On April 10th, the Germans are going to evacuate the camp, then blow it up, but after the inmates are assembled, the Resistance rises up and takes over the camp, and American tanks arrive at Buchenwald that evening. After liberation, Eliezer nearly dies of food poisoning. When he recovers, he looks at himself in the mirror, something he has not done since he was in Sighet, and a corpse stares back at him.

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