At the beginning of the book, with nothing else to cling to, prisoners in the concentration camps hold on to their family members. The most important thing is to stay with your family members as long as possible. For some, all that keeps them alive is knowledge that their family is safe. However, as the book progresses and the suffering of the prisoners increases in intensity, a major conflict in the book arises: self-preservation vs. love and loyalty to family. This conflict is seen especially clearly in the relationship between fathers and sons. Rabbi Eliahu’s son abandons his slow, weak father during the mad run to Buchenwald in order to increase his own chance of survival. When a German throws a piece of bread in a transport car, a son kills his own father just to get the scrap of bread. But the most important conflict of this type is Eliezer’s own personal conflict. Like Rabbi Eliahu’s son, Eliezer, during his moments of weakness, feels his own father a burden and a threat to his own survival.
Although Eliezer feels internal conflict about supporting his father and does occasionally feel that his father is a burden, Eliezer does not sink to become like Rabbi Eliahu’s son because Eliezer never acts on his negative thoughts and supports his father as best he can.
Although Eliezer occasionally battles with the notion that he could survive better if freed from the burden of taking care of his father, Eliezer is in more danger of death once his father passes away because without his father, Eliezer loses the will to live.
Eliezer presents the Jewish faith in a moment of extreme darkness. When Eliezer witnesses the horror of the Auschwitz concentration camps—especially the gruesome murder of babies and young children—he feels that his God has been murdered before his eyes. Eliezer cannot reconcile the atrocities that he sees with his notion of God. He does not stop believing in God, but loses his faith that God is absolutely just. Eliezer brings up questions like: Is God completely indifferent to man’s suffering? Is He a good God? Does He deserve the praise of the Jews who are suffering? Other Jews in the concentration camps experience a similar loss of faith: Akiba Drumer gives up and dies once he loses his faith in God, and a rabbi feels horrible guilt at doubting God’s mercy. In the concentration camps, many men continue to observe Rosh Hashanah and other religiously significant days, but it is unclear how many of them retain their faith.
Although Eliezer argues that man is stronger than God, it is God he prays to for strength in moments of extreme despair, proving that his faith in God remains.
Though Eliezer believes God to be indifferent to the suffering of the Jews, Eliezer does not become indifferent to God; rather he seeks to be seen, whether through attempting to punish or pray to God.
Deception—especially self-deception—is a powerful force in Night. Self-deception has two primary results: boosting morale and hope, but also deluding the Jews and leaving them vulnerable. The Jews of Sighet experience some serious group-think when they deceive themselves many, many times into thinking that they’re not in real danger from the Germans. This illusion prevents them from escaping Sighet while they still have a chance. In other instances, self-deception is used to create hope in situations where there is none. For example, Eliezer and his father continue to convince themselves that Eliezer’s mother and little sister are still alive and strong. There are other instances, more rare, of people deceiving each other, mostly for the sake of boosting morale and spirits. For example, Eliezer tells his cousin, Stein, who lives only for his family, that Stein’s wife and kids are all okay—a lie to give Stein a reason to keep living.
In Night, self-deception does more harm to the Jews than good.
In Night, self-deception is necessary for survival in the concentration camps because it gives the prisoners a reason to hope and to live.
In the beginning of Night, Eliezer’s identity is that of an innocent child, a student of Talmud, and a devout Jew. But the concentration camps experience strips him (and his fellow Jewish prisoners) of his identity. Eliezer’s hair is shaved, he’s dressed like all of the other prisoners, and in facing the atrocities of the camp, he loses his innocence (he’s no longer a child) and his faith in God (he’s no longer a devout Jew or student of Talmud). Eliezer and all of the other prisoners are given numbers instead of names. They are no longer individuals, but prisoners, "creatures," and eventually simply bodies. The longer they remain in camps, the more they are reduced to a mere physical presence, losing themselves to their self-preservation instinct, and eventually becoming simply hungry, nearly dead bodies. They are denied a spirit, a soul, human dignity, and even their bodies are denied the sustenance needed to survive—food, water, adequate shelter, and sleep.
Even though Eliezer is not immune to the degradation of his spirit, he manages to cling to his personhood through his connection with his father.
The question of who lives and who dies in Night stems from a system of unnatural rules. SS officers, such as Dr. Mengele, play God and decide who will live or who will go to the crematorium. "Selection" is based on perceived ability to work, so the young, old, and sickly are quickly killed, as are those who fail to work hard enough. Because the system determining life or death is subjective, some prisoners are able to play the system and can avoid death (to some extent) based on cunning. For example, Eliezer lies and says that he’s 18 years old and a farmer, which probably saves him from the crematorium when he first arrives at Birkenau. But despite this system of selection in Night, death and survival are often also based on chance. Using the same example from earlier, if another prisoner had not randomly advised Eliezer to pretend to be 18 years old, he may have been sent to the crematorium immediately upon arrival in Birkenau.
Although death is omnipresent, it does not become real to Eliezer until his father dies.
Eliezer is confronted with his mortality and realizes the likelihood of his own death on his first day at Birkenau when he sees children burned alive.
Throughout the book, the confinement of the Jewish people increases in a step-by-step process, which strips away their identity, humanity, and dignity. First, the Jews of Sighet are confined to their homes, then to ghettos, to cattle cars for transport, and eventually imprisoned behind the barbed wire and iron gates of concentration camps. With the increasing confinement, the Jews lose their possessions, their family members, their individuality, and many lose their lives. The hope of liberation from the concentration camps, either by the Allies or by God, is what keeps many of the imprisoned Jews going. Although there are only a few references to it, the resistance movement is alive within the camps. In the last chapter, the resistance movement rises up in protest and battles the Germans until American tanks arrive to liberate the concentration camp.
Eliezer feels complete freedom after being liberated from the concentration camp.
Although Eliezer is liberated from the concentration camps, he remains mentally imprisoned by continually associating his youth with death.
Violence permeates all of Night in many forms. Violence is used to dominate others, as with the Germans using violence to force the Jews into concentration camps. Similarly, public displays of violence are used to intimidate and threaten people, to maintain control. For example, members of the resistance in the concentration camps are publicly and gruesomely hanged as a warning to would-be insurgents. There is violence of those in power against the weak—the obvious example being the German SS guards abusing the prisoners—but also the downtrodden using violence against each other as the Jewish prisoners use violence against each other as they struggle to survive. The examples of violence in the novel are so varied there are instances when violence is passionate and when it is dispassionate, spontaneous and planned, senseless and to meet a specific end. Overall, violence is so extreme and so excessive that many characters have a hard time believing it could possibly be real.
For Eliezer, the dispassionate violence of the SS officers against the Jewish prisoners is most disturbing; he is more easily able to cope with passionate violence, such as when Idek lashes out at Eliezer from crazed anger.
Jews are the primary Nazi target for hate crimes and extermination, simply because of their race. As a reader, you can’t help but get a sense for the arbitrariness of race; the distinctions between the Aryans and the Jews blur, for example, when we learn that Eliezer’s little sister has blond hair, the Aryan ideal. Throughout their time in the concentration camps, the Jews try to keep their religious and cultural traditions alive, but it becomes increasingly difficult in the face of death and suffering.
Even though Judaism and Jewish identity are important factors in Eliezer’s life and in his deportation to concentration camps, he makes very few references to his Jewish cultural heritage outside of religion, suggesting that Eliezer does not distinguish between religious and cultural Jewish heritage.