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Understanding the Jewish Background of Elie Wiesel's Night


Night continues to be read, studied, and taught across the world reminding all who encounter it of the atrocities of the Holocaust through the eyes of Elie Wiesel.


Night is revised by Marion Wiesel for clarifications in language translation(s)


L'aube (Dawn, 1961) and Le Jour (The Accident, 1961) and revolve around survivors of the Holocaust and the way they deal with the memories of the camps


Night is published in English also in novella form.


La Nuit, a novella, is published in French language


Wiesel pens first edition of Night in Yiddish - an 800 page memoir titled Un di Velt Hot Geshvign


Jewish day of atonementJews fast and ask God for forgiveness.

Yom Kippur

Jewish prayer for the deadTypically recited for immediate family members. Elie notes that men were reciting the Kaddish for themselves. (p. 33)


4 ways to interpret text; Kabbalist's goal is to reach the Sod level.

Shechinah (the divine presence of God) in Exile" p.3- God's presence is not here. This makes sense given the world in which he lives. Observing the 613 Commandments can repair the world, and the Shechinah is no longer in exile. This is called "Tikkun Olam" - repairing the world.

Devekut - "Glue-ing oneself" to God and God's willElie seeks to study Kabbalah with Moshe the Beadle.p. 5 - Unity of question/answer "...when question and answer would become ONE."

the Kabbalah represents the Jewish form of what all mystical traditions strive for; a direct and intimate knowledge of the divine on a level beyond that of the intellect.






Jewish Background & Concepts

Then & now quotes from Elie Wiesel

Page 19

The first night in camp

Page 34

Silence is the great sin

Wiesel's wrestling with faith/God and his perceived silence of God.

Where is God?

Elie forgets to say the Kaddish

Page 76-77

God's silence in mourning

Page 33

Elie's rebellion on Yom Kippur

Page 69

There are four aspects of the theme of "silence"

4 Aspects

The silence of bystanders

Moishe the Beadle falls silent

Page 8

Exploring Theme: The Silence of God

But-Now, ten years after Buchenwald, I see that the world is forgetting. Germany is a sovereign state, the German army has been reborn. The bestial sadist of Buchenwald, Ilsa Koch, is happily raising her children. War criminals stroll in the streets of Hamburg and Munich. The past has been erased. Forgotten.Germans and anti-Semites persuade the world that the story of the six million Jewish martyrs is a fantasy, and the naive world will probably believe them, if not today, then tomorrow or the next day.So, I thought it would be a good idea to publish a book based on the notes I wrote in Buchenwald.I am not so naive to believe that this book will change history or shake people's beliefs. Books no longer have the power they once had. Those who were silent yesterday will also be silent tomorrow. I often ask myself, now, ten years after Buchenwald:Was it worth breaking that mirror? Was it worth it?- excerpt from original, Yiddish ending of Un di Velt Hot Geshvign - And the World Kept Silent, 1954

Three days after liberation I became very ill; food-poisoning. They took me to the hospital and the doctors said that I was gone.For two weeks I lay in the hospital between life and death. My situation grew worse from day to day. One fine day I got up-with the last of my energy-and went over to the mirror that was hanging on the wall.I wanted to see myself. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the mirror a skeleton gazed out.Skin and bones.I saw the image of myself after my death. It was at that instant that the will to live was awakened.Without knowing why, I raised a balled-up fist and smashed the mirror, breaking the image that lived within it.And then-I fainted.From that moment on my health began to improve.I stayed in bed for a few more days, in the course of which I wrote the outline of the book you are holding in your hand, dear reader.

Yiddish Ending

Translated from Yiddish to French & English

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Survivor shatters that image as soon as he sees it, destroying the deathly existence the Nazis willed on him.Yiddish survivor is filled with rage and a desire to live, take revenge, and to write.Elie writes immediately upon liberation as the first expression of his mental and physical recovery.We meet a survivor who is furious with the world's disinterest in his history, frustrated with the failure of the Jews to fulfill "the historical commandment of revenge," depressed by the apparent pointlessness of writing a book.The Yiddish survivor is alive with a vengeance and eager to break the wall of indifference he feels surrounds him.

Survivor portrayed as witness and expression of silence and death.Sees the corpse reflected and acknowledges that the Elie Wiesel from before the Holocaust is dead. The survivor (Wiesel) labors under the self-imposed seal and burden of silence, the silence of his association with the dead.

Yiddish Ending

Edited Ending

This is the most famous quote from Elie Wiesel.How might it relate to the book?What does it mean to you?What should it mean to us?“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”

1. Throughout the book, how does Elie’s thought about God change? Can we understand or relate to these thoughts? 2. Write about how one of the themes of the book is the inversion of values. Good is evil. The Truth is false. Insane is sane) What do you make of this theme? Does it have any relevance for us today?

Other themes and concepts to consider

- Elie Wiesel from a 2002 gathering of survivors & and their descendents

“I believe firmly and profoundly that whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness, so those who hear us, those who read us must continue to bear witness for us. Until now, they’re doing it with us. At a certain point in time, they will do it for all of us.”