Night Quotes and Analysis

For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and of course, its consequences.

Elie Wiesel, Forward

The quote demonstrates that, for Wiesel, silence over history is acceptance of that history. Having been condemned to silence in the concentration camps, Wiesel has an opportunity to preserve lives in his memory and in his writing. Wiesel suggests in this quote that memory is the only thing that truly makes us immortal: it is who remembers, and how they do so, which will keep society involved in collectively acknowledging the past.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Elie Wiesel, 34

This quote is a direct reference to imagery from the Bible and the Talmud. It is most likely in direct reference to the story of Cain. God declares to Cain: "Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth" (Genesis 4:11-12). When Cain suggests that anyone who finds him will kill him, God replies “anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” (Genesis 4:15-16). Wiesel’s quote evokes that, as night began, he became a restless wanderer hidden from God, and that instead of being protected from death, his death was sealed seven times over, reversing God’s role as a protector.

To forget the dead would be killing them a second time.

Elie Wiesel, Forward

In this quote, Wiesel reveals the importance of memory, indicating that those who forget erase the lives of those who came before. Wiesel reveals that he himself is guilty of doing this: when Akiba Drumer is sent to the crematory, he asks those around him to pray for him with the Kaddish. Though Wiesel and others promised to do this, they later forget, as survival—and indeed, forgetting—becomes their sole focus. This quote is also a call to the reader to remember the events that Wiesel speaks of, so that history is not buried with the convenience of time.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: For God’s sake, where is God? And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where is he? This is where—hanging here from these gallows.

Elie Wiesel, 65

This quote is in reference to the “sad-eyed angel”: the child who was condemned and hanged in front of all of the prisoners. While Wiesel acknowledges that hangings did not upset him, this one had a great affect on him, as it looked as though innocence itself were being condemned. This quote is the closest one in which Wiesel suggests a full disbelief in God; before, he always questioned God’s motives, but never His very existence. This reaction on the part of Wiesel reveals that evil had truly permeated his world.

From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.

Elie Wiesel, 115

It is with this image that Wiesel leaves us at the end of his piece, and is a haunting vision in which Wiesel no longer recognizes the person before him. By describing himself as a corpse, Wiesel also reveals that he is living death; his body simply being alive does not mean that his soul or that his humanity has survived. That Wiesel distances himself from this corpse is also a powerful way to suggest that his conscience did not recognize this creature before him; whatever had occurred in the concentration camps robbed him of his sense of self.

“I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept promises, all his promises, to hate the Jewish people."

Stranger in Hospital, 81

This quote is from Weisel’s companion in the hospital. Weisel at this time does not know whom to trust and is unsure if he should evacuate or remain in the hospital. The sense of hopelessness in this quote conveys the degree to which the Nazis have truly adopted the power of God in deciding who shall live and who shall perish. When the prisoner in the hospital says that he has more faith in Hitler than anyone else, he reveals that the only truths that now exist in the world are the violence and the hatred towards Jews. Any faith that he had beforehand, in either god, or in humanity, is simply impotent in comparison.

It was pitch dark. I could hear only the violin, and it was as though Julie’s soul were the bow. He was playing his life. The whole of his life was gliding through the strings- his last hopes, his charred past, his extinguished future. He played as he would never play again… when I awoke, in the daylight, I could see Juliek, opposite me, slumped over, dead. Near him lay his violin, smashed, trampled, a strange overwhelming little corpse.

Elie Wiesel, 95

This incredibly powerful image conflates both Juliek and his violin into the same being, an entity that had one last change to make himself heard before being extinguished from the earth. It is an image that suggests that humanity in the camps is still possible—that it appeared in small, fleeting ways before being lost. The sight of both Juliek and his violin no longer alive only highlights the degree of silence that permeated the camps: in the destruction of Juliek’s violin, it was not only that Juliek himself would never again be able to render his voice, but also that anyone else would be prohibited from doing so.

Moishe explained to me, with great emphasis, that every question possessed a power that was lost in the answer… "and why do you pray, Moishe?" I asked him. "I pray to the God within me for the strength to ask Him the real questions.”

Elie Wisel and Moishe the Beadle, 5

Throughout his time in the concentration camps, Wiesel begins to heavily question God’s motives and, at some points, where he even is. Though he rarely questions God’s existence, he begins to heavily doubt whether or not he should pray to a god whom he no longer trusts. Wiesel alludes to this exchange that he had with Moishe in order to convey that perhaps he was asking the wrong question, and that it could be impossible to understand God’s motives. Seeking the strength within himself to ask God the right questions conveys Wiesel’s acknowledgement that praying itself can be an exercise in understanding what is worth praying about, allowing the person to seek for himself what truly gives life meaning.

Did I write it so as not to go mad, or, on the contrary, to go mad in order to understand the nature of madness?

Elie Wiesel, Forward

In this quote, Wiesel suggests that writing this book involved the very nature of his sanity: that expelling mental energy to remember would either save him from madness, or make him go mad, revealing the very mechanics of madness. In other places, Wiesel posits that the act of remembering is what keeps people alive, so presumably the reader is to understand that writing this book in some ways saved him. However, it is clear throughout Wiesel’s writing that life in the concentration camps made his sacrifice his own humanity, as unnatural wishes, such as to be freed of the burden of his father, made his question whether or not he was really human. The quote thus suggests that both were necessary for the creation of this piece, which allowed a critical distance of time for objectivity and reflection, along with a very real experience with death and near insanity, in order to properly convey the truth of the concentration camps.

For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory.

Elie Wiesel, Forward

Wiesel frames his writing not as a voluntary contribution to a public, but rather as a mandatory one that he must do for the greater good of society. He describes the act of withholding historical truth as depriving future generations of history, and suggests that the past is not just that which is lived by an individual, but also an element that is shared by all in out “collective memory.” The quote also interestingly positions Wiesel not only as an observer but also as a witness, and using the analogy of a court suggests that Wiesel is obligated to tell the whole truth and nothing but.