Night Imagery

The dying man crawling towards soup

This is one of the most powerful images in the novel, and conveys the sheer brutality of the death camps. This moment occurs when the prisoners are ordered to be confined in the barracks during an air raid. Despite the warning signals, a dying man crawls outside to take advantage of a cauldron of soup that has been left outside. He crawls towards the soup, and desperately thrusts his head into the liquid, but it is too late, and he dies a horrifying tragic death. The image shows that dignity has been stripped from prisoners, and that at some point, animal survival instincts take over their personalities.

The hanging of the "sad-eyed angel"

Another tragic image is that of the “sad-eyed angel” or the boy who was condemned to hang. As the prisoners look on, Wiesel describes the situation as though he and the rest of the prisoners were watching as something sacred was being sacrificed. It is one of the images in which a shred of morality enters into the onlookers- the man who would usually perform the hangings, one of the prisoners, refused to carry out the task, and was replaced by an SS officer. The detail in which Wiesel describes the scene is austere and poignant, noting that the boy was so light that the weight of his fall did not kill him immediately; the prisoners having to watch an excruciating death for half an hour. The lightness of the boy conveys not only the degree to which he must be emaciated, but also the sense of his innocence, of a life that has not been lived and has not grown heavy with the weight of time. By imagining his as an Angel, Weisel also makes the Nazis look that much more evil, as though they robbed innocence from the boy along with his wings, tarnishing both the boy’s life, and sheer feeling of sacredness.

The camps as hell on earth

Wiesel frequently compares the death camps to a living hell, and certain elements of both hell and the camps have unsettling parallels. Perhaps the strongest of these comparisons is the biblical fiery hell and the actual fiery hell of the crematorium that served as a constant reminder of one’s mortality. This is foreshadowed by Madame Schaechter’s screams and premonitions of a fire and a chimney, which the prisoners don’t believe until they see the smoke of the crematorium in Birkenau. The images of people being burned alive at Birkenau, particularly children and even infants, have scared Wiesel and contribute to a vision of a hell on earth. That fire leaves nothing but ash also exaggerates the degree to which lives were simply erased without a trace. Wiesel states, “Never shall I forget the little face of children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

The Selection

Wiesel uses the selection process, in which the SS decide who is to die and who may continue living, as a clear parallel to judgment day. As he describes how prisoners during selection must stand naked between beds, “ this must be how one stands at the last judgment.” By situating the Nazis in the same role as God, Weisel conveys the sheer amount of power that the Nazis held within their hands. The image of Dr. Mengele writing down identification numbers at will reminds the reader how arbitrary the decision are, and that despite a struggle for survival, a prisoner can still be condemned. Situations like the selection make many prisoners, such as Akiba Drumer, lose the will to live when it seems as though the power of Nazi evil is greater than the power of god himself.