Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide
The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance
your reading of Elie Wiesels Night. We hope they will
enrich your experience as you explore this poignant and fiercely honest
remembrance of the Holocaust.
A watershed memoir first published in 1958, Elie Wiesels Night
has become widely recognized as a masterpiece. This new edition, translated
from the French by Wiesels wife and frequent translator, Marion
Wiesel, presents this seminal work in the language and spirit truest to
the authors original intent. A new preface by the author, in addition
to the text of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, provides enduring insight
into his vision and legacy.
In eloquent, unflinching scenes, Night recalls Wiesels
survival as a teenager in Nazi death camps. Each chapter raises questions
that have haunted the world since Hitlers rise: How could such
a staggering number of innocents have lost their lives at the command
of one regime? What does it take to survive when body, mind, and spirit
are brutalized for months, even years? Why does God seem to forsake those
who suffer? For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Holocaust,
or of the nature of humanity itself, Night is essential reading.
Questions for Discussion
Compare Wiesels preface to the memoir itself. Has his perspective
shifted in any way over the years?
In his Nobel lecture, presented in 1986, Wiesel writes of the power
of memory, including the notion that the memory of death can serve as
a shield against death. He mentions several sources of injustice that
reached a boiling point in the 1980s, such as Apartheid and the suppression
of Lech Walesa, as well as fears that are still
with us, such as terrorism and the threat of nuclear war. Will twenty-first-century
society be marked by remembrance, or by forgetting?
How does the author characterize himself in Night? What
does young Eliezer tell us about the town, community, and home that
defined his childhood? How would you describe his storytelling tone?
Why doesnt anyone believe Moishe the Beadle? In what way did
other citizens around the world share in Sighets naïveté?
Would you have heeded Moishes warnings, or would his stories
have seemed too atrocious to be true? Has modern journalism solved the
problem of complacency, or are Cassandras more prevalent than ever?
As Eliezers family and neighbors are confined to a large ghetto
and then expelled to a smaller, ghostlier one whose residents have already
been deported, what do you learn about the process by which Hitler implemented
doom? How are you affected by the uncertainty endured by Sighets
Jews on their prolonged journey to the concentration camps?
With the words Women to the right! Eliezer has a final
glimpse of his mother and of his sister, Tzipora. His father later wonders
whether he should have presented his son as a younger boy, so that Eliezer
could have joined the women. What turning point is represented by that
moment, when their family is split and the gravity of every choice is
At Birkenau, Eliezer considers ending his life by running into the
electric fence. His father tells him to remember Mrs. Schächter,
who had become delusional on the train. What might account for the fact
that Eliezer and his father were able to keep their wits about them
while others slipped into madness?
Eliezer observes the now-infamous inscription above the entrance to
Auschwitz, equating work with liberty. How does that inscription come
to embody the deceit and bitter irony of the Nazi camps? What was the
work of the prisoners? Were any of the Auschwitz survivors
ever liberated emotionally?
Eliezers gold crown makes him a target for spurious bargaining,
concluding in a lavatory with Franek, the foreman, and a dentist from
Warsaw. Discuss the hierarchies in place at Auschwitz. How was a prisoners
value determined? Which prisoners were chosen for supervisory roles?
Which ones were more likely to face bullying, or execution?
Eliezer expresses sympathy for Job, the biblical figure who experienced
horrendous loss and illness as Satan and God engaged in a debate over
Jobs faithfulness. After watching the lynching and slow death
of a young boy, Eliezer tells himself that God is hanging from the gallows
as well. In his Nobel lecture, Wiesel describes the Holocaust as a
universe where God, betrayed by His creatures, covered His face in order
not to see. How does Wiesels understanding of God change
throughout the book? How did the prisoners in Night, including
rabbis, reconcile their agony with their faith?
After the surgery on Eliezers foot, he and his father must
face being marched to a more remote camp or staying behind to face possible
eleventh-hour execution amid rumors of approaching Red Army troops.
Observing that Hitlers deadliness is the only reliable aspect
of their lives, Wiesels father decides that he and his son should
leave the camp. The memoir is filled with such crossroads, the painful
outcomes of which can be known only in retrospect. How does Wiesel respond
to such outcomes? Do you believe these outcomes are driven by destiny,
or do they simply reflect the reality of decision-making?
In his final scenes with his father, Eliezer must switch roles with
him, becoming the provider and comforter, despite advice from others
to abandon the dying man. What accounts for the tender, unbreakable
bond between Eliezer and his father long after other men in their camp
begin fending for themselves? How does their bond compare to those in
What is the significance of the books final image, Wiesels
face, reflected in a mirror? He writes that a corpse gazed back at him,
with a look that has never left him. What aspects of him died during
his ordeal? What aspects were born in their place? What do you make
of his observation that among the men liberated with him, not one sought
Wiesel faced constant rejection when he first tried to publish Night;
numerous major publishing houses in France and the United States closed
their doors to him. His memoir is now a classic that has inspired many
other historians and Holocaust survivors to write important contributions
to this genre of remembrance. What is
unique about Wiesels story? How does his approach compare to
that of other memoirists whose work you have read?
All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein (a Hill and Wang teachers
guide is available for this title at www.fsgbooks.com); The Hours After by Gerda Weissmann Klein and Kurt Klein; The Boys and The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert; The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg; The Drowned and the Savedand Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer; On Burning Ground by Michael Skakun; Maus: A Survivors Tale (a graphic novel
in two volumes) by Art Spiegelman; The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman.
Other Books by Elie Wiesel
Additional memoirs by Elie Wiesel: All Rivers Run to the Sea
And the Sea Is Never Full
Other titles in the Night trilogy: Dawn
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Hill and Wang.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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