Study Guide

Night Race

By Elie Wiesel

Race

Chapter 1
Eliezer

My father’s view was that it was not all bleak, or perhaps he just did not want to discourage the others, to throw salt on their wounds:

"The yellow star? So what? It’s not lethal …"

(Poor Father! Of what then did you die?) (1.73-75)

People’s racial identity becomes their death (or the marker of death), as symbolized by the yellow star.

I looked at my little sister, Tzipora, her blond hair neatly combed, her red coat over her arm: a little girl of seven. (1.159)

Knowing that the Germans were so concerned with maintaining the purity of their ideal Aryan race of blond-haired and blue-eyed people, knowing that Eliezer’s little sister, a Jew, has blond hair blurs the racial distinctions and makes them seem arbitrary.

Little by little life returned to "normal." The barbed wire that encircled us in did not fill us with real fear. In fact, we felt this was not a bad thing; we were entirely among ourselves. A small Jewish republic … A Jewish Council was appointed, as well as a Jewish police force, a welfare agency, a labor committee, a health agency–a whole government apparatus.

People thought this was a good thing. We would no longer have to look at all those hostile faces, endure those hate-filled stares. No more fear. No more anguish. We would live among Jews, among brothers … (1.79-80)

The Jews of Sighet, despite their containment in a ghetto, find hope in the brotherhood of racial and cultural identity as Jews.

Chapter 4
Eliezer

We had left the tents for the musicians' block. We now were entitled to a blanket, a washbowl, and a bar of soap. The Blockälteste was a German Jew.

It was good to have a Jew as your leader. His name was Alphonse. A young man with a startlingly wizened face. He was totally devoted to defending "his" block. Whenever he could, he would "organize" a cauldron of soup for the young, for the weak, for all those who dreamed more of an extra portion of food than of liberty. (4.44-45)

Racial solidarity is an important part of survival in the concentration camps.

In the warehouse I often worked next to a young French woman. We did not speak: she did not know German and I did not understand French.

I thought she looked Jewish, though she passed for "Aryan." She was a forced labor inmate.

[…]

I dragged myself to my corner. I was aching all over. I felt a cool hand wiping my blood-stained forehead. It was the French girl. She was smiling her mournful smile as she slipped me a crust of bread. She looked straight into my eyes. I knew she wanted to talk to me but she was paralyzed with fear. She remained like that for some time, and then her face lit up and she said, in almost perfect German:

"Bite your lips, little brother … Don’t cry. Keep your anger, your hate, for another day, for later. The day will come but not now … Wait. Clench your teeth and wait …"

Many years later, in Paris, I sat in the Métro, reading my newspaper. Across the aisle, a beautiful woman with dark hair and dreamy eyes. I had seen those eyes before.

[…]

We left the Métro together and sat down at a café terrace. We spent the whole evening reminiscing. Before parting, I said, "May I ask one more question?"

"I know what it is: Am I Jewish …? Yes, I am. From an observant family. During the occupation I had false papers and passed as Aryan. And that was how I was assigned to a forced labor unit. When they deported me to Germany, I eluded being sent to a concentration camp. At the depot, nobody knew that I spoke German; it would have aroused suspicion. It was imprudent of me to say those few words to you, but I knew that you would not betray me …" (4.62-77)

Again, racial distinctions between the Germans and Jews seem to blur, as the French girl is able to hide her Jewish identity and pass herself off as Aryan. For her, hiding her heritage may have been the difference between life and death.