by Elie Wiesel
Night Identity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Suddenly, someone threw his arms round me in a hug: Yechiel, the Sigheter rebbe’s brother. He was weeping bitterly. I thought he was crying with joy at still being alive.
"Don't cry, Yechiel," I said. "Don't waste your tears."
"Not cry? We're on the threshold of death. Soon we shall be inside … Do you understand? Inside. How could I not cry?"
I watched the darkness fade through the bluish skylights in the roof. I was no longer afraid. I was overcome by fatigue. (3.86-90)
Because of the suffering Eliezer has endured, he’s so exhausted that he can no longer feel normal human emotion, like fear and sadness.
In a few seconds, we had ceased to be men. Had the situation not been so tragic, we might have laughed. We looked pretty strange! Meir Katz, a colossus, wore a child’s pants, and Stern, a skinny little fellow, was floundering in a huge jacket. We immediately started to switch.
I glanced over at my father. How changed he looked! His eyes were veiled. I wanted to tell him something, but I didn’t know what.
The night had passed completely. The morning star shone in the sky. I too had become a different person. The student of Talmud, the child I was, had been consumed by the flames. All that was left was a shape that resembled me. My soul had been invaded – and devoured – by a black flame. (3.95-97)
Within one night the concentration camp experience has completely altered Eliezer’s identity, as well as the identities of his fellow Jews. Shaven and dressed in the same prison garb, the men have been stripped of the individuality they formerly had. In addition, Eliezer’s identity has further changed because he has lost his innocence, is no longer a child, and has lost his faith in God’s justice. He can no longer define himself as either a "child" or a "student of Talmud;" now he is simply a prisoner.
My father suddenly had a colic attack. He got up and asked politely, in German, "Excuse me … Could you tell me where the toilets are located?"
The Gypsy stared at him for a long time, from head to toe. As if he wished to ascertain that the person addressing him was actually a creature of flesh and bone, a human being with a body and a belly. Then, as if waking from a deep sleep, he slapped my father with such a force that he fell down and then crawled back to his place on all fours.
I stood petrified. What had happened to me? My father had just been struck, in front of me, and I had not even blinked. I had watched and kept silent. Only yesterday, I would have dug my nails into this criminal's flesh. Had I changed that much? So fast? Remorse began to gnaw at me. All I could think was: I shall never forgive them for this. My father must have guessed my thoughts, because he whispered in my ear:
"It doesn’t hurt." His cheek still bore the red mark of the hand. (3.117-120)
The man in charge of Eliezer and his father’s unit, despite Eliezer’s father’s polite address, is unable to view him as a fellow human, and feels justified in beating him. The "gypsy" degrades Eliezer’s father and turns him into the animal he is seen as by the prison guards, beating him until he crawls on all fours. The concentration camp environment is gradually eroding away Eliezer’s humanity as well, his feelings of anger at the "gypsy" are delayed – self-preservation instincts are already beginning to overwhelm more human emotions.