Chapter 1 "They called him Moché the Beadle"
Night opens with a brief description of a poor man named Moché the Beadle, who lives in the narrator's hometown of Sighet, Transylvania (modern-day Romania; at the time that the novel opens, the town is under Hungarian control). Moché is generally well liked, works in the Hasidic synagogue, and is a very pious and humble individual. In 1941, when he is twelve, the narrator, Eliezer Wiesel, wants to study the cabbala (a form of Jewish mysticism), but his father tells him that he is too young. In this passage we learn that Eliezer's father is highly regarded in the Jewish community and pays more attention to outside matters than to family ones; we also learn that Eliezer has two older sisters, Hilda and Béa, and a younger one, Tzipora. Despite his father's lack of support, Eliezer decides to study the cabbala anyway and chooses Moché as his teacher. Moché teaches him not to search for answers from God, but rather to try to ask the right questions. One day Moché and other non-Hungarian Jews are deported by Hungarian police, but the incident is forgotten by the other Jews and dismissed as a normal wartime practice.
Several months later, Moché returns, having escaped from a concentration camp in Poland. He tries to warn the townspeople of the atrocities that he has seen, but no one believes him. Everyone thinks he is trying to win sympathy or has simply gone insane. He tells Eliezer that he miraculously survived the concentration camps in order to save the Jews in Sighet, but life continues on as normal during 1942 and 1943. Eliezer devotes himself to his religious studies, his father busies himself in the Jewish community, and his mother tries to find a husband for Hilda.
In the spring of 1944, people believe that the Germans will soon be defeated by the Russians, and no one believes that the Nazis could want to exterminate an entire race of people. The Jews do not really consider that anything bad could happen to them, and even though Eliezer asks his father to emigrate to Palestine, his father does not want to start a new life elsewhere. Even after the townspeople hear that the Fascists have come into power in Hungary, no one really worries until the Germans actually invade Hungary and arrive at Sighet itself. Even then, the Germans seem nice and friendly, at least until Passover, when the persecution of the Jews begins in full force. Jews are not allowed to leave their homes, are forced to give up their valuables, and are required to wear the yellow star. Next, two ghettos are set up, and everyone is relocated. Once again, however, life returns to "normal," with the Jews setting up organizations and socializing happily.
One day Eliezer's father is suddenly summoned to a meeting of the Jewish council. Family and neighbors wait up past midnight to hear whatever news Eliezer's father has to tell them. When he returns from the meeting, he tells them that all the Jews are to be deported to an unknown destination and that they will only be allowed one bag per person. Eliezer and the neighbors disperse to pack and wake everyone else up. Someone from outside the ghetto knocks on the door, but disappears before the door can be opened. Later, Eliezer discovers that it was a family friend in the Hungarian police trying to warn them to escape.
Eliezer goes to wake up some of his father's friends, and then everyone cooks and packs in preparation to being deported. When the Hungarian police arrive early in the morning and begin forcing people outside into the streets, it is very hot and people are crying out for water. Eliezer and his sisters help the Jewish police to secretly bring water to thirsty children. When it is time for the people in the street to leave, there is joy because at this point people cannot imagine anything more horrible than sitting outside in the hot sun. Eliezer is scheduled to leave in the last transport, and he watches people in the first group march by. The next day, his family is moved from the large ghetto to the small one. Eliezer feels nothing as he looks at the house he grew up in, but his father begins to weep. At this point Eliezer begins to hate his oppressors, and he calls his hate the only thing that still connects him to them today.
In the little ghetto, which is unguarded, people try to remain upbeat. Eliezer's family moves into the house formerly occupied by his uncle's family, and everything is in disarray, as if people were suddenly and unexpectedly driven out. An old, non-Jewish servant named Martha comes to visit and tries to get the family to escape and hide in her village. Eliezer's father refuses to go and tells Eliezer he can go if he wants to. Eliezer refuses to leave his family, and they all remain in the ghetto.
It is night, and everyone goes to bed because there is nothing else to do but wait. When they wake at dawn, they are foolishly optimistic and compare the deportation to going on holiday. Eliezer says that the false optimism helped pass the time and notes that the uncertainty of everyone's future erased social distinctions between people. On Friday, the night before the scheduled deportation, the family eats dinner together for the last time. The next day, the Jews are ready to leave. They had agreed to organize their own deportation voluntarily, and they are all crowded into the synagogue for an entire day. No one can leave, and people are relieving themselves in corners. The following morning, everyone is herded into cattle wagons, which are sealed shut. The Gestapo puts one person in charge of each car and threatens to shoot him if anyone escapes. A whistle blows, and the train starts moving.
In this chapter we learn how important religion is to the young Eliezer. Though his father thinks that he is too young to immerse himself in religious mysticism, Eliezer is very devout and focuses all his energy on religious study. As a young boy, religion comes as naturally to Eliezer as living and breathing, and we should pay attention to how his attitude towards religion and God changes as Night progresses. In the first few pages of the chapter, Moché tells Eliezer that one must seek to ask God the right questions, not to find out the right answers. One simply cannot understand the answers that God gives: "You will find the true answers, Eliezer, only within yourself!" This advice proves to be one of the main themes of the book. While in concentration camps, Eliezer cannot understand why God is allowing so much death and destruction to take place around him. However, even though he is angry and questions God's actions, he never loses his faith. Though he doesn't come up with any answers, he continues to question God, and in doing so, his faith is actually strengthened. Eliezer's evolving relationship with God is a major source of character development in the novel.
Another important theme in the novel concerns the inadvertent role that the Jews played in their own destruction. In the first section of the book, Eliezer is haunted by the complacency and foolish optimism of the Jews in Sighet. Despite Moché's warnings, news of the German invasion of Hungary, and even imminent deportation, the Jewish people refuse to believe that anything bad will happen to them. As long as possible, they try to maintain life as normal and even cast a positive light on their situation. For example, when the Jews are forced to move into ghettos, the townspeople act relieved that they no longer have to deal with overt prejudice: "We should no longer have before our eyes those hostile faces, those hate-laden stares. Our fear and anguish were at an end. We were living among Jews, among brothers" Of course, it is not an improvement for the Jews to be thus segregated, and such passages would be ironic, were they not so tragic. Eliezer reveals how naïve and trusting the Jews were, and he is obviously haunted by how his own family could have easily escaped the horrors of the concentration camps simply by leaving town a little bit earlier.
Though the innocence of the Jewish townspeople is painfully foolish in retrospect, Eliezer does not fault his family and neighbors for being so reluctant to leave Sighet. Although his narrative is filled with regret and a little guilt, he is careful to point out that the optimism of the Jewish townspeople is simply a survival strategy: "These optimistic speeches, which no one believed, helped to pass the time." The Jews must keep up hope if they want to survive; to give up in despair and to lose faith in God is to die. Eliezer will learn this lesson well as he gains time in concentration camps.
While this first section of the novel focuses on how the Jews inadvertently participated in their own deportation to concentration camps, later sections will describe how they actively helped destroy each other while imprisoned by the Nazis. Forced under desperate conditions to try to survive, many of them will turn on each other with violence and cruelty. In addition, they will learn to bear things they had never imagined possible, such as the sight of their friends and family being beaten by those in authority. Throughout the novel Wiesel is exploring two variations on the same time: how people react in the face of terrible circumstances. Before deportation and in concentration camps, the Jews are put under extreme pressures and behave in ways that they generally wouldn't under normal circumstances. For this reason, the novel can be seen as a kind of psychological study in human behavior. However, Night is far from a coldly objective and distanced analysis of human psychology. Instead, it is a painful and intimate autobiography, and the two emotions that resonate most strongly within it are Eliezer's anger at the Nazis for violating his humanity and that of his people, and guilt that he was able to behave so inhumanely as a result.
Night is a novel full of symbolism, and in this chapter Eliezer uses the word "night" repeatedly. Night is approaching, night has fallen, Eliezer and his family lie awake at night. Night functions as both a metaphor and a symbol. It is a metaphor for the Holocaust, which will submerge Eliezer's family and thousands of other Jewish families in the darkness and misery of concentration camps. Eliezer will be thrust into a world with no light and no hope, and everything around him will seem as black as night. For example, this passage comes right before Eliezer's family is deported: "Night. No one prayed, so that the night would pass quickly. The stars were only sparks of the fire which devoured us. Should that fire die out one day, there would be nothing left in the sky but dead stars, dead eyes." As it becomes closer and closer to the time that Eliezer's family is to be deported, night represents the increasing desperateness and fear that he is experiencing. Night also symbolizes the evil and destructiveness of the Nazis. The world that Eliezer describes becomes darker and darker, with an increased emphasis on night instead of day, as the Nazis draw closer to Sighet. Eliezer's world literally becomes plunged in darkness because the Nazis take away all the joy, light, and hope, replacing it with the blackness of death and evil.
In the first section of the book, there is an almost obsessive quality to Wiesel's description of night and day. He recounts every single dusk, night, and dawn from the time that the Germans invade Sighet to the time that he is taken away by train. This focus on the sleep cycle emphasizes the hours the Jews spent waiting for their uncertain future, and it successfully recreates the feeling of days dragging on endlessly yet inexorably. Eliezer cannot stop time, and by marking it in intervals in his novel, he increases the sense of impending doom. And ironically, though the days seem drawn out and monotonous, everything happens in a very short time span and their lives change almost instantaneously.