Study Guide

Night Violence

By Elie Wiesel

Violence

Chapter 1
Eliezer

He [Moishe] told me what had happened to him and his companions. The train with the deportees had crossed the Hungarian border and, once in Polish territory, had been taken over by the Gestapo. The train had stopped. The Jews were ordered to get off and onto waiting trucks. The trucks headed toward a forest. There everybody was ordered to get out. They were forced to dig huge trenches. When they had finished their work, the men from the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion or haste, they shot their prisoners, who were forced to approach the trench one by one and offer their necks. Infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns.

[…]

But people not only refused to believe his tales, they refused to listen. Some even insinuated that he only wanted their pity, that he was imagining things. Others flatly said that he had gone mad. (1.29-31)

The violence Moishe witnesses and reports to the Jews in Sighet is so extreme and dispassionate that they don’t believe him. They find the violence so excessive that they chalk it up to Moishe’s imagination.

Chapter 2
Mrs. Schächter

"Look at the fire! Look at the flames! Flames everywhere…"

Once again, the young men bound and gagged her. When they actually struck her, people shouted their approval:

"Keep her quite! Make that madwoman shut up. She’s not the only one here …"

She received several blows to the head, blows that could have been lethal. (2.35-38)

Terribly afraid and treated inhumanely themselves, the Jews are even violent to each other, lashing out at Mrs. Schächter because she amplifies their fear of what is to come.

Chapter 3
Eliezer

I pinched myself: Was I still alive? Was I awake? How was it possible that men, women, and children were being burned and that the world kept silent? No. All this would not be real. A nightmare perhaps … Soon I would wake up with a start, my heart pounding, and find that I was back in the room of my childhood, with my books …

My father’s voice tore me from my daydreams:

"What a shame, a shame that you did not go with your mother … I saw many children your age go with their mothers …"

His voice was terribly sad. I understood that he did not wish to see what they would to do to me. He did not wish to see his only son go up in flames.

My forehead was covered with cold sweat. Still, I told him that I could not believe that human beings were being burned in our times; the world would never tolerate such crimes …

"The world? The world is not interested in us. Today everything is possible, even the crematoria …" (3.54-59)

Despite seeing it with his own eyes, the violence is so extreme that Eliezer has a hard time believing it could possibly be real; he thinks it must be a nightmare.

Chapter 4

"In the name of Reichsführer Himmler … prisoner number … stole during the air raid … according to the law … prisoner number … is condemned to death. Let this be a warning and an example to all prisoners." (4.172)

The German SS officers use public hanging and the threat of death to keep the prisoners frightened and submissive.

One day when Idek was venting his fury, I happened to cross his path. He threw himself on me like a wild beast, beating me in the chest, on my head, throwing me to the ground and picking me up again, crushing me with ever more violent blows, until I was covered in blood. As I bit my lips in order not to howl with pain, he must have mistaken my silence for defiance and so he continued to hit me harder and harder.

Abruptly, he calmed down and sent me back to work as if nothing had happened. As if we had taken part in a game in which both roles were of equal importance. (4.64-65)

The men in control can afford to be violent simply because they happen to be angry and want to lash out at something. It’s senseless violence that serves no purpose.

Idek

"A-7713!"

I stepped forward.

"A crate!" he ordered.

They brought a crate.

"Lie down on it! On your belly!"

I obeyed.

I no longer felt anything except the lashes of the whip.

[…]

"Twenty-four…twenty-five!"

It was over. I had not realized it, but I had fainted. I came to when they doused me with cold water. I was still lying on the crate. In a blur, I could see the wet ground next to me. Then I heard someone yell. It had to be the Kapo. I began to distinguish what he was shouting:

"Stand up!"

[…]

"Listen to me, you son of a swine!" said Idek coldly. "So much for your curiosity. You shall receive five times more if you dare tell anyone what you saw! Understood?" (4.117-140)

Idek, the Kapo, uses violence as a threat to keep Eliezer silent after having watched Idek have sex with a Polish girl.

Chapter 6

Faster you filthy dogs!" We were no longer marching, we were running. Like automatons. The SS were running as well, weapons in hand. We looked as though we were running from them.

The night was pitch-black. From time to time, a shot exploded in the darkness. They had orders to shoot anyone who could not sustain the pace. Their fingers on the triggers, they did not deprive themselves of the pleasure. If one of us stopped for a second, a quick shot eliminated the filthy dog. (6.3-4)

Again the SS officers use the threat of death, and examples of murder, to frighten the prisoners into following orders. Although the SS are following their boss’s orders to shoot the prisoners that can’t keep up, they also gain pleasure from the violence.

Chapter 8
Eliezer’s Father

All around me, there was silence now, broken only by moaning. In front of the block, the SS were giving orders. An officer passed between the bunks. My father was pleading:

"My son, water … I’m burning up … My insides …"

[…]

The officer came closer and shouted to him to be silent. But my father did not hear. He continued to call me. The officer wielded his club and dealt him a violent blow to the head. (8.92-96)

The SS officer beats Eliezer’s harmless and ill father simply because he is annoyed that Eliezer’s father isn’t silent. Damage from the blow eventually kills Eliezer’s father. This is yet another powerful and horrifying example of senseless, cruel violence.

"My son, they are beating me!"

"Who?" I thought he was delirious.

"Him, the Frenchman … and the Pole … They beat me …"

One more stab to the heart, one more reason to hate. One less reason to live.

"Eliezer … Eliezer … tell them not to beat me … I haven’t done anything … Why are they beating me?"

I began to insult his neighbors. They mocked me. I promised them bread, soup. They laughed. Then they got angry; they could not stand my father any longer, they said, because he no longer was able to drag himself outside to relieve himself. (8.66-71)

Eliezer’s father’s fellow prisoners use violence against him for no good reason. They are annoyed with him in his ill and decrepit state and therefore abuse him.