Main Themes as seen in Night - Cruelty in the Holocaust
In 1941, a world changing tragedy began to emerge. This event is the Holocaust. The Holocaust leads to the deaths of so many innocent people. Many of us have no exposure to this event, so the only way to learn about this incident is through others accounts. In the memoir, Night, Elie Wiesel discusses his experiences during the Holocaust as a fifteen year old boy and the effect it has on him and the other Jewish people he meets. The Jewish race becomes dehumanized at the hands of the Nazis leaving him and a great deal of individuals in a hopeless situation. He faces many catastrophic circumstances that could have broken him but he rises above it all. Despite other concepts, the main theme of the novel consists of Elie’s spiritual journey, the dehumanization of the Jews, and relationships that are difficult to ensure would survive such devastating events.
To begin, one of the main themes of the novel consists of Elie’s religious journey. Elie is a devout Jew who would give up everything for his faith, but the Holocaust ends up putting his faith to the ultimate test. As a young boy, Elie spends a large amount of time in the synagogue and even focuses his studies around the Jewish doctrine. He exclaims, “By day I studied Talmud and by night I would run to the synagogue and weep over the destruction of the temple” (Wiesel 10). Elie’s religion defines him. He worships and praises a God that he believes in and depends on more than anything. As the Holocaust begins, Elie bears witness to the massive trauma. His religious transformation begins to evolve. He states, “For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent, What was there to thank Him for'' (Wiesel 33)? Elies’s doubt in God intensifies when he catches sight of the flames of the crematorium. He is the eyewitness to the death of many innocent children who are thrown into the burning fire. This is when he realizes that this could be his fate and the God he praises can not stop this from happening. Just in his first night in a concentration camp, Elie, who starts the day believing in God, ends the day by denying His existence. He saids, “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes” (Wiesel 34). Elie’s whole belief in God shatters. He feels hatred and betrayal towards God because the God Elie is calling upon, fails him in a time when he needs His guidance, strength, and wisdom to confirm his faith. As one can see, Elie advances from believing, to doubting, to not believing in just his first experience in a concentration camp. The religious journey Elie takes is a result of the Holocaust and the torture he witnesses.
Another main theme of the novel has to deal with the dehumanization of the Jewish people. Dehumanization is the process of depriving a person or group of human qualities (Oxford Languages and Google). This act of cruelness crushes the ambition of the Jewish people and leaves them to wallow in desperation. It originates when the German troops arrive in Sighet less than a week later. Elie exclaims, “The Hungarian police burst into every Jewish home: a Jew was henceforth forbidden to own gold, jewelry, or any other valuables. Everything had to be handed over to the authorities, under the penalty of death” (Wiesel 10). This is the beginning of the German troops striking fear and an authoritarian presence over the Jewish community through dehumanization. Next, there is the liquidation of the ghettos in which the Jewish people of Sighet are living in. The Jewish council that oversees the ghetto, receives news that the Jews are being taken by the SS officers to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Elie’s father, Shlomo states, “Each of us will be allowed to bring his personal belongings. A backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else” (Wiesel 14). This is when the Jews are stripped of all of their personal belongings, forcing them to leave behind their homes and their entire lives work. Upon arrival at the concentration camp, Elie and the new prisoners are commanded to strip out of the rest of the items they own: their clothing. A German officer saids, “Strip! Hurry up! Raus! Hold on only to your belt and your shoes. Our clothes were to be thrown on the floor at the back of the barrack. There was a pile there already. New suits, old ones, torn overcoats, rags. For us it meant true equality: nakedness. We trembled in the cold” (Wiesel 35). The dehumanization plan of the Jews succeeds. The Nazis tear away the last items that define them.The Jews officially have nothing left. The process of dehumanization continues throughout the novel, leaving a lasting effect on the Jewish society.
Relationships and the consequences of them play a key role in the survival of the Jewish people throughout the novel. First, there is Mrs. Schachter. Her husband and son are deported, by mistake, with another transport. This abandonment leaves her and her son to face the Holocaust by themselves. Elie claims, “Mrs. Schachter had lost her mind. On the first day of the journey, she had already begun to moan. She kept asking why she had been separated from her family. Later her sobs and screams became hysterical” (Wiesel 24). As the expedition on the train continues, nothing can enhance her condition. The separation from her family is unbearable, she can not recover. She ends up dying from the pain and anguish of her losses. Next, there is Stein. He is a relative of Elie and Shlomo and is asking for information regarding his family. Elie’s only choice is to lie to Stein in the hope that he would find the will to live. Stein explains, “The only thing that keeps me alive is to know that Reizel and the little ones are still alive. Were it not for them, I would give up” (Wiesel 45). This will to live does not last long because Stein discovers the real news concerning his family. His family has not survived in the concentration camp of Antwerp and this breaks him. Elie and his father do not see him again so one can infer that Stein dies. Lastly, there is Rabbi Eliahu and his son. They have a very close bond with one another and are constantly together. Then suddenly, his son makes an abominable decision in an attempt to protect himself. Rabbi Eliahu explains, “ It happened on the road. We lose sight of another during the journey. I fell behind a little, at the rear of the column. I didn’t have the strength to run anymore. And my son didn’t notice. That’s all I know. Where has he disappeared? Where can I find him? Perhaps you’ve seen him somewhere” (Wiesel 91)? Elie notices that Rabbi Eliahu’s son sees his father lose ground, but he continues to run letting the distance increase. He realizes that Rabbi Eliahu’s son is trying to get rid of him so that he can increase his chance at survival. As one can see, relationships during the Holocaust are burdensome and difficult to maintain. In this type of situation, it is every man for himself. Survival is precedent over relationships.
In conclusion, Elie’s religious journey, the dehumanization of Jews, and relationships are the main themes of the novel. Night is a prodigiously powerful memoir about Elie and his father’s experiences in the camps and the people who live through it with them. The Holocaust is an unprecedented event that destroys the lives of many innocent people. The impacts of the Holocaust will forever alter the world. Many nations are committed to ensuring that a catastrophic event like this will never occur again. Because of this event, a new sense of appreciation develops for cultural differences and religious practices.