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Night Summary


Here you will find a Night summary (Elie Wiesel's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Night Summary Overview

The story is conveyed through the eyes of a Jewish adolescent who initially resides in Sighet, a town in Hungarian Transylvania, immersing himself in the study of the Torah and Jewish mysticism. His teacher, Moishe the Beadle, is deported and returns months later with a gruesome account of the German secret police's brutal extermination of his transport, a tale dismissed as the ramblings of a madman. The narrative takes a dark turn in the spring of 1944 when the Nazis seize Hungary; the protagonist and other Jewish town-folk are subjected to a series of oppressive regulations, forcing them into cramped ghettos before being crammed into cattle cars for a journey to Auschwitz. Upon reaching Birkenau, the entrance to Auschwitz, the protagonist and his father are separated from the rest of their family, whom they never see again. The new prisoners undergo "selections," determining who will be killed immediately or sent to laborious tasks. The protagonist and his father narrowly survive the selection, but stumble upon the horrifying sight of babies being incinerated by Nazis. The prisoners endure horrendous cruelty, being stripped, shaved, disinfected, and subsequently marched to Auschwitz's main camp. Eventually, they are sent to Buna, a work camp, where the protagonist is forced into labor. In the face of relentless humiliation, brutal conditions, and constant threat of death, the prisoners find solace in each other, religious practice, and the hope of a Jewish state in Palestine. After several months at Buna, the protagonist undergoes surgery for a foot injury. However, with advancing Russian forces threatening to liberate Buna, the Nazis decide to evacuate. The prisoners are forced into a death march through a blizzard, running over fifty miles to the Gleiwitz concentration camp. Many succumb to the harsh weather and exhaustion. From Gleiwitz, they are once again loaded onto cattle cars for a deadly voyage to Buchenwald. Of the hundred Jewish prisoners that start the journey, only twelve survive. The protagonist and his father manage to survive through mutual support, but his father eventually dies of dysentery and physical abuse in Buchenwald. The protagonist is left a mere shell of his former self until the liberation of the camp by the American army on April 11, 1945.


François Mauriac shares his experience of interviewing Elie Wiesel, a journalist from Tel Aviv. Initially anxious, Mauriac is put at ease by the personal nature of their conversation which revolves around the Nazi invasion of France during the Second World War. Mauriac is deeply haunted by the stories his wife related to him about witnessing Jewish children being loaded onto trains for deportation at the Austerlitz station in Paris. This image destroys his belief in the advancement of Western civilization. He views the French Revolution as a broken promise, first shattered by World War I and then further devastated by the Holocaust. Mauriac is taken aback when Wiesel discloses that he was among the children on those trains. Mauriac delves into the power of Wiesel's book, Night. He likens it to Anne Frank's memoir, an intimate account of the atrocities of World War II. Mauriac believes that Wiesel's personal story gives a human face to the Holocaust, making it a unique and unforgettable testimony. He insists the book deserves recognition for its distinct perspective on life under Nazi rule. Mauriac takes special interest in the spiritual aspect of Wiesel’s narrative. He's deeply moved by the narrator’s battle with faith amidst his suffering. Mauriac quotes the famous line from Night, “Never shall I forget that night,” expressing how deeply he was affected by the protagonist’s crisis of faith, an unsettling legacy of the Holocaust. Although Mauriac, a devout Christian, wanted to console Wiesel by explaining his belief in enduring faith and eternal mercy, he found himself overpowered by Wiesel's spiritual struggle. Overwhelmed and speechless, he simply embraced Wiesel, weeping.

chapter 1

In 1941, twelve-year-old Eliezer lives in the Transylvanian town of Sighet, which was recently annexed by Hungary. Being part of an Orthodox Jewish family, Eliezer grows up under strict Jewish laws, as he is the only son of shopkeeping parents. He has three sisters: Hilda, Béa, and Tzipora. Eliezer is deeply involved in studying the Talmud and the Kabbalah - Jewish religious texts. His interest in the Kabbalah, though unusual for a teenager, is boosted by his mentor, Moishe the Beadle. However, Moishe is deported when the Hungarians expel all foreign Jews. The locals momentarily express outrage but soon forget. Months later, Moishe returns, narrating horrifying tales of the Gestapo forcing Jews to dig their graves before killing them. But the townsfolk dismiss him as a madman. When the Fascists take control of the Hungarian government in spring 1944, German troops swiftly occupy Hungary. The anti-Semitic measures escalate - Jewish leaders get arrested, Jewish property is seized, and Jews are made to wear yellow stars. They are then crammed into small ghettos. The systematic deportation of Jews begins, and Eliezer's family is among the final groups to leave Sighet. Their gentile ex-housemaid, Martha, proposes a plan to hide them in her village, but they refuse tragically. The remaining Jews, including Eliezer's family, are soon forced onto cattle cars bound for Auschwitz by the Nazis and their accomplices, the Hungarian police.

chapter 2

The Jewish people are crammed into cattle cars, suffering from suffocating heat, a lack of air, hunger, and thirst. They are stripped of their decency, with some even flirting openly while others feign ignorance. After enduring these horrendous conditions for days, they arrive at the Czechoslovakian border and realize their journey isn't a mere relocation. A German officer takes control, threatening to kill anyone withholding valuables or attempting to escape, and the car doors are sealed shut. Madame Schächter, tormented by the harsh conditions, starts to lose her sanity. On the third night, she starts screaming about a fire, terrifying the others although no fire is visible. They convince themselves she has lost her mind. Eventually, she is restrained and silenced. Her young son watches the ordeal helplessly. However, she manages to free herself, screaming about the horrific furnace awaiting them, until she is brutally silenced by some boys. When the train finally halts, they learn they have arrived at Auschwitz station, a name unfamiliar to them. They manage to obtain information from locals that the camp is a labor camp where they will be kept as families. The prisoners are temporarily relieved. But Madame Schächter's screams fill the night once again, and she is forcibly silenced. Advancing slowly, the train enters an area enclosed by barbed wire at midnight where they see huge furnace chimneys. An unidentifiable, awful odor permeates the air, which they would later learn is the smell of burning human flesh. They have arrived at Birkenau, the processing center of Auschwitz.

chapter 3

At Birkenau, Eliezer and his father are separated from his mother and sister, never to see them again. They are told by another prisoner to lie about their ages to avoid immediate death. Despite this, they are told that Auschwitz is ultimately a death camp. Arguments rise among the younger and older Jews about rebellion or faith, but they eventually move on to the selection. Dr. Mengele decides who will work and who will die instantly. Eliezer successfully lies about his age and profession, being sent to Mengele's left with his father. The prisoners are unsure if left means survival or immediate death. As they navigate through Birkenau, they witness two pits of horror where adults and babies are being burned alive. In shock, Eliezer disputes the reality of these atrocities, but his father asserts that humanity is dead. Grief engulfs the prisoners, leading to the recitation of the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead. Despite his father's participation, Eliezer grapples with his faith. In an abrupt turn of events, their line is redirected from the pit to a barracks. The night of horrors etches itself permanently in Eliezer's memory. They are subjected to further dehumanization in the barracks, being shaved, disinfected, showered, and clothed in prison uniforms. They learn their fate is between laborious work or the crematorium. After his father is beaten for asking to go to the bathroom, Eliezer is disturbed by his own inaction. They are then transferred from Birkenau to Auschwitz, where they are tattooed with prison numbers and stay for three weeks. Eliezer meets Stein, a relative from Antwerp, and lies about his family's well-being to comfort him. However, Stein later learns the truth and never meets Eliezer again. Despite the witnessed horrors, the prisoners maintain their faith in God. Eventually, they are moved from Auschwitz to Buna, the labor camp where they will be detained for months.

chapter 4

Following the initial quarantine and medical review, Eliezer is selected by a Kapo to join a group of prisoners responsible for tallying electrical components in a storehouse. He discovers his father is also in the same unit. Both are stationed in the musicians' block, led by a compassionate German Jew. Here, Eliezer becomes friends with Juliek, a Jewish violinist, and Zionist brothers Yosi and Tibi. He plans to relocate to Palestine with them post-war. Akiba Drumer, a devout believer, anticipates liberation from the camps soon. Shortly after their arrival at Buna, Eliezer is ordered to the dentist to extract his gold crown. He successfully argues illness and defers the procedure. The dentist is later hanged for illicitly dealing in gold teeth. Eliezer feels no sympathy as he is preoccupied with self-preservation and food acquisition. Idek, the supervisor of Eliezer’s work group, has episodes of violent rage and beats Eliezer brutally one day. A French girl working nearby offers him a little comfort later. Years after the Holocaust, Eliezer reunites with the same girl, now a woman, in Paris. She reveals her past as a Jew impersonating an Aryan with counterfeit documents, working as a laborer but not a camp prisoner. Back in Buna, Eliezer's father is targeted in one of Idek's outbursts. Eliezer candidly discloses his transformation, focused solely on survival and blaming his father for not avoiding Idek's wrath. Foreman Franek notices Eliezer's gold crown and demands it, resorting to cruelty when denied. After enduring Franek’s taunting and father's beating, Eliezer relents. Following this, Idek and Franek, along with Polish prisoners, are moved to a different camp. Before this, Eliezer witnesses Idek having intercourse in the barracks and is publicly whipped as punishment. During an Allied bombing, a prisoner ventures out to eat from two unattended soup pots and is shot. The Nazis later hang a man for theft during the raid, and two prisoners and a young boy suspected of resistance affiliations. The prisoners, numb from their own pain, manage to shed tears for the child. A prisoner questions God's existence amid such brutality, and Eliezer mourns, believing God to have perished alongside the boy on the gallows.

chapter 5

During the Jewish High Holidays in 1944, Eliezer's faith wavers as he struggles to find meaning in their religious celebrations amidst the suffering in Buna. He is cynical about the notion of Jews being God's chosen people, feeling they were only selected for slaughter. This loss of faith isolates him from the other 10,000 Jewish worshippers in Buna. However, a quiet moment of understanding with his father provides a brief respite. Eliezer finds only despair in his father's countenance. He chooses to break tradition by eating on Yom Kippur, a day usually reserved for fasting and atonement. After the Jewish New Year, another selection process separates Eliezer from his father, causing anxiety as he fears his father won't survive. His dread becomes reality when his father, deemed too weak to work, delivers his knife and spoon to Eliezer as an inheritance, signifying his impending execution. Returning from work, Eliezer is surprised to learn his father survived a second selection among those condemned. However, Akiba Drumer wasn't so fortunate. Having lost faith, Drumer also lost his will to live. Even a devout rabbi confesses his loss of faith after witnessing the horrors of concentration camps. As winter sets in, the prisoners endure the biting cold. Eliezer undergoes surgery to treat a swollen foot. While convalescing in the hospital, he hears rumors of the approaching Russian army, instilling new hope. However, the Germans decide to evacuate Buna before the Russians arrive, fearing imminent death, Eliezer and his father opt to leave with the evacuees. Later, Eliezer discovers their decision was ill-advised; those who remained in the infirmary were liberated by the Russians days later. Despite his bleeding foot, Eliezer is forced to join the evacuation in the midst of a snowstorm.

chapter 6

During a blizzard, the Buna prisoners are forced to evacuate. If anyone ceases to run, they're executed by the SS. Zalman, a fellow prisoner, is unable to keep up and tragically dies. Eliezer, despite suffering from malnutrition, exhaustion and a painful foot injury, perseveres for his father's sake. After a grueling all-night run covering over forty-two miles, they reach an abandoned village. In the biting cold, Eliezer and his father fight to stay awake, understanding that succumbing to sleep could prove fatal. They rely on each other for survival. They encounter Rabbi Eliahou, a respected elder who is searching for his son. The Rabbi and his son had been each other's pillars of support throughout their time in the camps. Eliezer, knowing that the son had abandoned his father during the run, lies and claims he has not seen him. He prays that he won't ever behave as Rabbi Eliahou’s son did. Finally, they reach the Gleiwitz camp. In their desperation to enter the barracks, they push and shove, resulting in Eliezer and his father falling to the ground. Struggling to breathe, Eliezer realizes he is lying on Juliek, a musician he befriended in Buna. As he fights for air, he hears Juliek's violin playing amidst the dying men. Eliezer falls asleep to the music, only to wake up and find Juliek dead, his violin broken. After three days without food or water, a new selection process takes place. Eliezer's father is chosen for death, but in the ensuing chaos, both manage to slip back to the safe side. Eventually, the prisoners are herded onto roofless cattle cars, marking their departure.

chapter 7

The captives are forced into livestock wagons and commanded to discard the corpses. Eliezer's father, unconscious, is almost thrown out as dead, but Eliezer is able to rouse him. For ten days and nights, the train moves with the Jews subsisting on snow, unfed. German townsfolk throw bread into the wagon for their amusement as they watch the Jews fight each other for the food as they pass through their towns. Eliezer then recalls a post-Holocaust incident when he observed a wealthy Parisian woman in Aden (Yemen) tossing coins to local boys. When two boys nearly kill each other for a coin, Eliezer pleads with the woman to stop. She retorts, “I like to give charity.” Eliezer then resumes his account of the German townspeople tossing bread into the train. An elderly man seizes a piece, but Eliezer witnesses his own son brutally attack and murder him for it. The son is then killed by other men. One night, an attempt is made to choke Eliezer while he sleeps. Eliezer's father summons their strong friend, Meir Katz, who saves Eliezer, but Meir Katz himself is losing hope. When the train reaches Buchenwald, only a dozen of the original 100 men in Eliezer’s wagon survive. Meir Katz is among the casualties. My God, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done.

chapter 8

Eliezer's father is critically ill due to the harsh journey to Buchenwald. Once they reach, his father gives into his exhaustion and sits in the snow, refusing to move. Despite Eliezer's efforts to persuade him, his father only wishes to rest. During an air raid, Eliezer abandons his father to seek shelter in the barracks and falls into a deep sleep. Upon waking up, he searches for his father, though a part of him wishes to save his energy. However, he eventually stumbles upon his father, who is severely ill and immobile. Eliezer provides him with soup and coffee, battling feelings of guilt as a part of him desires to keep the food to improve his survival chances. Eliezer's father's health deteriorates as he suffers from dysentery, causing thirst but giving water is risky. Despite trying, Eliezer fails to find medical assistance due to the doctors' refusal to treat the old man. The other prisoners steal his father's food and harm him. Eliezer gives water to his father following his father's pleas for help. After a week, the block leader advises Eliezer to focus on his survival, indicating that his father is dying. During the next SS patrol, Eliezer's father is beaten by an officer for crying out for water. The following morning, Eliezer finds out his father has been taken to the crematory. He feels a shameful sense of relief instead of the expected grief.

chapter 9

Stuck in Buchenwald, Eliezer harbors thoughts of nothing but sustenance. With the proximity of the American forces on April 5, the Nazis resolve to exterminate the remaining Jews in the camp, killing thousands each day. By April 10, they plan to evacuate and kill the approximately 20,000 Jews still present. However, the onset of an air-raid siren sends everyone inside just as the evacuation starts. Following the return to apparent normality, the resistance uprising drives the SS out of the camp. A few hours later, on April 11, the American forces reach Buchenwald. Though now liberated, the prisoners' primary concern is to satiate their hunger. Eliezer suffers from a severe food poisoning attack and is hospitalized for weeks. Upon looking at himself in a mirror for the first time since he left Sighet, he is horrified to see a corpse-like reflection. Wiesel pens, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me.”

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