Introduction and Background

The book Night details Elie Wiesel’s experiences during the Holocaust in four separate camps between the time he entered when he was 14 years old in 1941 and the time he left as the only survivor of his family of 7 in 1945 at the age of 16. Wiesel entered as a naive boy steeped in Jewish lore who had never left the small Romanian village of Sighet, where he was born. Skeptical of the existence of a caring God and finding himself alone, Wiesel left penniless and friendless in an alien universe.

In the “Preface to the New Translation” (2006) that had been translated by Marion Wiesel, Elie's wife, Wiesel writes that his intention in writing the book had been to fulfill what he believed was his mission in life—namely, to bear witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust. This is why his first and longer treatise had been called “Und der Velt hut Geshvigen,” or “And the world remained silent,” suggesting that international politics had ignored the monstrosities of the Nazis and allowed them to continue their inhuman acts.

Wiesel also describes his helplessness in translating the realities of the Holocaust into “regular” words. How could he convey into speech the atmosphere of the last cattle ride for instance—or, for that matter, the terror of those massed up for selection? How would he express his separation from a “beautiful, well-behaved Jewish little girl with golden hair and a sad smile” (p. ix) whom, he was later informed, was incinerated in the crematoria clutching the hand of her mother upon arrival? Ultimately, the essence of Auschwitz could never be translated into words, but Wiesel knew that he had to try. Thus he persevered and was rejected by major publishers, both French and American, despite the unflagging efforts of his patron, Francois Mauriac.

There was much from the Yiddish version that Wiesel had to omit for the English abridgment to be accepted. Many found it too morose and cynical, and the original Yiddish version ended with a...

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Essays About Night