Elie Wiesel's Night: Summary, History & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Introduction
  • 0:57 Historical Context
  • 2:08 Elie Wiesel
  • 3:58 Night
  • 6:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

The Holocaust of World War II was one of the darkest times in recent history. In this lesson, you'll get an overview of one of the most famous Holocaust memoirs, along with the historical context and some biographical highlights of the author, Elie Wiesel.


'Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.' - Elie Wiesel

One of history's most terrible moments of human suffering was World War II's Holocaust. For those of us who didn't live through this horror, Hollywood has given us plenty of 2-hour versions that are easy enough to swallow. Movies like Schindler's List and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas take on the Holocaust directly, but even major blockbusters, like the first X-Men movie, feature connections to this pivotal moment in history.

Most middle-schoolers read or watch a version of Anne Frank's unimaginable life in hiding. Her story ends when she is captured and imprisoned in Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp. Wiesel's book Night is his story of struggle and, ultimately, survival as part of the small percentage who made it through to liberation.

Historical Context

The word 'holocaust' means 'complete destruction, usually by fire', but when we use the capitalized form of the word, it takes on a more specific meaning. The Holocaust refers to the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews by Nazi Germany. By the end of World War II, Nazi Germany had murdered nearly two thirds of all the Jews in Europe, and they, and their allies, had killed millions of others, such as Gypsies, homosexuals, and people born with mental and physical disabilities, because they were considered inferior.

Shortly after the Nazi regime took power in Germany, they began moving targeted groups into ghettos, enclosed parts of a city where the Germans forced specific populations to live. Conditions in these ghettos were horrible, unsanitary, crowded, and dangerous. The Warsaw ghetto in Poland housed 400,000 Jews in only 1.3 square miles. As grim as life was in the ghetto, this was often just a stop before the residents were taken to a forced-labor camp, or ultimately to one of the camps whose sole purpose was extermination on a mass scale.

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in a town that is now part of Romania. When Wiesel was only 15, his family was captured and imprisoned in Auschwitz. Of his family of six, only Elie and his two older sisters survived. His mother and younger sister died in Auschwitz, and his father perished in the Buchenwald camp, shortly before it was liberated.

After the war, he studied journalism, and eventually he wrote about his experiences in the Nazi camps. That first book, La Nuit (translated as Night), is his memoir of that horrific time. Night has been translated into 30 languages, and since its publication, Wiesel has written more than 60 works of fiction and non-fiction.

Wiesel has also been actively engaged in humanitarian efforts for the last 40 years, and his efforts have been officially recognized with highest honors, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, and in 1986, he won the Nobel Prize for Peace. His organization, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, exists to further his cause of universal human rights.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Wiesel said, 'Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.' His experience has led him to believe that even in the face of overwhelming evil, danger, and injustice, one person can make a difference, and his challenge for all of us is to have the courage to be that person.


'If in my lifetime I was only to write one book, this would be the one.' - Elie Wiesel

Wiesel's memoir, Night, is a story of struggle - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It not only relates this history of the Holocaust, but it also does what many great books do; it reveals the depth of the human soul and explores our limits.

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