Night Notes

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Night Plot Summary

Night begins in 1941, when, the narrator of the story, Elie, is twelve years old. Having grown up in a little town called Sighet in Transylvania, Elie is a studious, deeply religious boy with a loving family consisting of his parents and three sisters. One day, Moshe the Beadle, a Jew from Sighet, deported in 1942, with whom Elie had once studied the cabbala, comes back and warns the town of the impending dangers of the German army. No one listens and years pass by. But by 1944, Germans are already in the town of Sighet and they set up ghettos for the Jews. After a while, the Germans begin the deportation of the Jews to the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

The Jews of Sighet are forced into crowded cattle wagons, each car consisting of eighty people. The conditions of the train ride are horrific; they are treated no better than animals. A woman named Madame Schachter starts to go mad. She yells, "Fire! I can see a fire!" (Chapter 2, pg. 22) Periodically, throughout the train ride, she yells about fire, flames, and the furnace. At first, the others try to quiet her. When that does not work, they merely ignore her. When the train arrives at its destination, they are at Birkenau, the reception center for Auschwitz. The air smells of burning flesh.

At Birkenau, Elie is separated from his mother and sisters. Realizing the importance of being together, Elie and his father lie about their age. As they prepare to enter the camp, they see a ditch where babies are thrown into a burning flame. Elie cannot imagine that this is actually happening. It feels like a nightmare that he can never forget. The male Jews are shaved, showered, and given work clothes. After a long march, they enter Auschwitz, where Elie becomes number A-7713. After a brief stay at Auschwitz, they are moved to a new camp, Buna.

At Buna, Elie goes through the dehumanizing process of the concentration camps. Both he and his father experience severe beatings at the hand of the kapos (overseers). In one instance, Elie receives twenty-five strokes of the whip from Idek the Kapo for walking in on him while he is with a girl. All the prisoners are overworked and undernourished. Many lose faith in God, including Elie. He witnesses several hangings, one of a boy with an angelic face, and sees him struggle for over thirty minutes fighting for his life. To a stranger's cry of "Where is God now?" Elie answers: "He is hanging here on this gallows...." Chapter 4, pg. 62

Elie and his father manage to survive through the selection process, where the unfit are condemned to the crematory. Elie suffers from a foot injury that places him in a hospital. After the surgery, the Germans decide to relocate the prisoners because of the advancement of the Russian army. The prisoners begin a long trek in the dead of winter. Many do not make it. Elie and his father support each other through the grueling march.

The march leads to a train ride where Elie witnesses a boy kill his father for a morsel of bread. Elie is horrified at the very thought, but he realizes that he too has become callous-that he is beginning to care only about his own survival. By the end of the winter trek to Buchenwald, out of a hundred prisoners, only a dozen survive, including Elie and his father.

Although Elie's father survives the trip, he later falls ill. Elie witnesses the slow deterioration of his father's health and his eventual death. At Buchenweld, the Germans try in desperation to exterminate all the remaining Jews. But by this time, the Germans are close to defeat. Before the Germans can carry out Hitler's plan to exterminate the Jews, there is a successful uprising in the camp by the resistance. On April 11, 1945, American tanks arrive at Buchenweld. As Elie recuperates in a hospital, he looks into a mirror and sees a corpse gaze back at him.

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