by Elie Wiesel
Night Mortality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"You are in a concentration camp. In Auschwitz …"
A pause. He was observing the effect his words had produced. His face remains in my memory to this day. A tall man, in his thirties, crime written all over his forehead and his gaze. He looked at us as one would a pack of leprous dogs clinging to life.
"Remember," he went on. "Remember it always, let it be graven in your memories. You are in Auschwitz. And Auschwitz is not a convalescent home. It is a concentration camp. Here, you must work. If you don’t you will go straight to the chimney. To the crematorium. Work or the crematorium—the choice is yours."
We had already lived through a lot that night. We thought nothing could frighten us anymore. But his harsh words sent shivers through us. The word "chimney" here was not an abstraction; it floated in the air, mingled with the smoke. It was, perhaps, the only word that had a real meaning in this place. He left the barrack. (3.111-114)
This SS officer makes it clear that in the concentration camp, a prisoner’s ability to work is all that will keep him alive. The SS uses the threat of death, reinforced by the ever-present smell and sight of the furnace, to wield his authority and force the prisoners to work.
That was when we began to hear the planes. Almost at the same moment, the barrack began to shake.
"They’re bombing the Buna factory," someone shouted.
I anxiously thought of my father who was at work. But I was glad, nevertheless. To watch that factory go up in flames—what revenge! While we had heard some talk of German military defeats on the various fronts, we were not sure if they were credible. But today, this was real!
We were not afraid. And yet, if a bomb had fallen on the blocks, it would have claimed hundreds of inmates’ lives. But we no longer feared death, in any event not this particular death. Every bomb that hit filled us with joy, gave us renewed confidence. (4.149-152)
Again we see that not all paths to death are equal (think back to Eliezer preferring to electrocute himself than go to the crematorium). Somehow, death by the Allies’ bombs is different than the death the prisoners have been facing at the hands of the Nazis. Maybe dying at the hands of the SS officers lacks dignity because they are forced and treated like animals, whereas if death comes from the Allies, at least the Allies are hurting the Germans, avenging the Jewish prisoners.
Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing …
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
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 He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows …"
That night the soup tasted of corpses. (4.206-212)
The Germans use death as a threat to maintain their authority, keep the prisoners afraid, and prevent rebellion. The more horror the prisoners witness, the more effective the Germans' psychological abuse tactic is to maintain control.