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The Author
Background the Holocaust
The Characters
Theme - Night
Theme - Faith
Theme - Power of Evil
Questions for Study  



NIGHT by Elie Wiesel


Elie Wiesel 1928 –

A survivor of the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz, Wiesel won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. He was born on September 30th 1928 in Sighet, a small town in the province of Transylvania, Romania.

Wiesel comes from an Orthodox Jewish family and his father Shlomo was a shopkeeper.  Two of his grandparents were Rabbis, and Elie spent much of his early years learning about his Jewish faith.

The town of Sighet was at the hub of a thriving Jewish community in the Carpathian Mountains.  In 1940, Transylvania was absorbed into the Hungarian nation.

Elie was the only boy in his family, having three sisters. He was an intelligent child and spent much of his time immersed in books rather than playing games outside. His mother Sarah was also well educated and had graduated from High School. 

Elie took on all the Orthodox traditions and his family was part of the Hasidic group within Judaism who were renowned for their piety.  As part of the traditions of this sect, Elie wore peyes (side curls), and donned the traditional leather phylacteries that bound scripture to the forehead and arm prior to morning prayers. Many of the ceremonies involved meditation, chanting and devotional readings. Elie was fortunate that he was surrounded by devout Jews who would help him in his quest for knowledge in order to develop his faith in God. 

As he approached his teens, Elie started studying the mystical text of the Kabbalah.  This philosophy was based on interpretations of Judaic prophecy, dreams, numerology, scripture and sacred mysteries.  Many thought he was too young to start this study.

Whilst the Jews in German-occupied Europe were being rounded-up and sent to the Concentration Camps, those in Hungary seemed to escape, and with the approach of the Russian Army, it would appear that the Jews in Sighet would escape the slaughter, but Hitler was determined to resolve the Jewish question, and in 1944 the Jews of Hungary were gathered together.  The German Army, when they occupied Hungary, installed a puppet regime under their control. To ensure that the Hungarian Jews were destroyed quickly, Adolf Eichmann himself came to Hungary to oversee the deportation of the Jewish community.

Elie was fifteen when his family, community and his faith were destroyed upon the deportation of his village in 1944 to the Auschwitz Concentration camp in Poland. Whilst at the camp, Elie witnessed many atrocities. The first trauma he had to endure was the splitting up of his family. The men and the women went separate ways and he never saw his mother and sister again.

Elie was able to remain with his father even though they were shuttled from camp to camp. They endured hard labor, the bone-numbing cold, and malnutrition. In addition to these hardships, there would be the occasional beating from the guards.

As the end of the war approached and the Russians came close to Auschwitz, Elie and his father became part of the Germans' panic evacuation of Auschwitz. They were force-marched out of the camp for some forty-plus miles and then transported for ten days in a cattle car until they reached Buchenwald. There they endured further indescribable hardships and Elie's father Shlomo died of a blow to the head, although he was also suffering from dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion. It was shortly thereafter that American forces liberated this camp.

After the war, Wiesel went to live in France where he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, while supporting himself as a choirmaster and teacher of Hebrew. He became a professional journalist, writing for newspapers in both France and Israel.

For ten years, he maintained a self-imposed vow of silence and wrote nothing about his wartime experience. In 1955, at the urging of the Catholic writer Francois Mauriac, he set down his memories in Yiddish, in a 900-page work entitled UnDie Welt Hot Geshvign (And the World Kept Silent). The book was first published in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Wiesel condensed the work into a shorter version which became known as La Nuit (Night), but several years passed before he was able to find a publisher for the French or English versions of the work. Even after Wiesel found publishers for the French and English translations, the book sold few copies. The holocaust was not something people wanted to know about in those days," he reported in an interview with Time magazine. "The diary of Anne Frank was about as far as anyone wanted to venture into the dark."

In 1956,Wiesel came to New York City on an assignment. He was forced to stay in this country for a year after being in a car accident and confined to a wheel chair. After he recovered, a friend convinced him to apply for U. S. citizenship and he became a citizen in 1963. He subsequently married and now lives in New York City.  

Since his first work, he has become a prolific writer and public speaker. 

His life’s work has been championing individuals and communities that suffer.  He has made important speeches concerning such subjects as the Vietnamese Boatpeople, the missing thousands of Argentina, nuclear proliferation, the plight of Arabs in Palestine. He made a controversial trip to Moscow in 1965 when he visited Russian Jewish refugees. He was present at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, and gave evidence in the trial of the war criminal Klaus Barbie in Lyons, France.

He has received numerous accolades including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Martin Luther King Medallion, the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement, the Joseph Prize for Human Rights, the Prix M'dicis, the Prix Rivarol, and the Prix de l’Universalit'.

As mentioned earlier, Wiesel became a prolific writer and he had over twenty-five published books, which were autobiographical and non-fictional, starting with ‘Night’ in 1960, ‘Dawn’ in 1961, and ‘The Accident’ in 1962, which are collectively called ‘The Night Trilogy.  His last work in this category was ‘All Rivers Run to the Sea’, published in 1995. He also had around ten pieces of fictional work published including ‘The Town Beyond the Wall’ in 1964, ‘The Oath’ in 1973, and ‘The Forgotten’ in 1992.  He has also produced cassettes, a musical piece called ‘A Song Lost and Found Again’, videos, plays and articles for various American publications including The New York Times, Time Magazine, and Parade.


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