Elie Wiesel
Contributed by Vernita Mires
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Chapter 5

Towards the end of summer, it is time for the Jews to celebrate the festivals of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Although the Jews are imprisoned and tortured in Buna, nevertheless they celebrate Rosh Hashanah by praying together and praising God. Eliezer, overcome by emotions, chooses to rebel against God and questions the point in praising God amidst enormous suffering. He laughs at the thought of Jews as God’s chosen people and is of the view that they have been chosen only for suffering and torture. He believes that man is more powerful than God, more persevering and kind. He believes he is alone in his rebellion among the 10,000 Jews in the concentration camp. He comes out of the congregation and meets his father. The duo, in a candid moment, strike a chord of harmony and oneness. He sees only dejection and frustration in his eyes. On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Jews fast, but Eliezer decides against it and eats his food.

Another selection of prisoners is announced after the Jewish New Year. This time, Eliezer is separated from his father and assigned to work in the building unit. He worries that his father might not be able to clear the selection due to his lack of fitness. His worst fears come true, and his father is about to be executed. His father hands over his knife and spoon, his only inherited things, to his son. Eliezer is made to leave the place, presumably never to see his father again. But a miracle happens in the form of second selection, and Eliezer’s father makes it this time.

Akiba Drumer, however, fails to make it. He has lost his faith in God, and now he has lost his will to live; ultimately, he gets killed. Many Jews face the same predicament. Eliezer narrates a story of a rabbi who also admits that he has lost his faith in God after witnessing the happenings of the concentration camp.

The winter has set in, and many prisoners suffer from cold. Eliezer undergoes surgery for a foot injury. In the hospital, there is a rumor that the Russian army is approaching, and there is new hope. However, the Germans evacuate the camp before the arrival of the Russian army. Eliezer chooses to be evacuated with his father, thinking that those left behind will be killed by the Nazis. However, his decision falls flat as, after the war, people left behind by the Germans are freed by the Russian army. At night, Eliezer, with his foot bleeding profusely, leaves Buna along with the prisoners in a snowstorm.


The High Holidays in the Jewish tradition are a time for divine judgment. They believe that on Rosh Hashanah, all Jews pass before God, just like sheep before a shepherd. And God decides who all will live and who all will die in the coming year. Eliezer feels that in the concentration camps, there is a role reversal. Here the Nazi police segregate the people who will live and who will die. 

Dr. Mengele carries out a medical test to decide who will die and who will work. It is clear in Eliezer’s mind that Nazis have usurped God’s power. 

Eliezer believes that the Nazis’ atrocities make it clear that God is absent, and it is no use praying to him. This belief is further strengthened when an inmate tells Eliezer, “I’ve got more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He’s the only one who’s kept his promises . . . to the Jewish people.” 

Akiba Drumer’s loss of faith and subsequent death makes it clear that mankind needs faith and hope to survive. Drumer is condemned to die after he loses faith in God. Eliezer vows to say the prayer for the dead on Drumer’s behalf but forgets to do so. Eliezer’s loss of faith implies that he has not only betrayed God, but also, he has also ditched human beings. Wiesel wants to make a point that, without faith in God and hope, life is meaningless, and there is no survival. Eliezer and other Jews may deny the existence of God from this world and their minds, but God is still present in their inner consciousnesses. Akiba Drumer has lost his faith in God, but still he wants Eliezer to say the prayer for the dead for him once he is no more. This means that religion still has some sway over him. In the third section, Eliezer, now a non-believer, still affirms God’s existence while making an oath never to forget the Holocaust, “even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.” 

In his autobiography, All Rivers Run to the Sea, Wiesel discusses in detail his religious feelings after the Holocaust. “My anger rises up within faith and not outside it,” he notes. “I had seen too much suffering to break with the past and reject the heritage of those who had suffered.” It is clear that Wiesel personally kept his faith in God alive during trying times. Despite the narrator’s loss of faith, he is unable to completely reject Jewish traditions and God.

As Night is an account of Wiesel’s feelings during the Holocaust, the work is often taken as one without any hope. Though Eliezer is devoid of hope in the end, he still believes that both God and mankind have kindness and benevolence. It can be successfully argued that the existence of Night shows Eliezer’s belief in the importance of human life. If Eliezer had lost all the belief, as he says in Section Three that he has forever lost his will to live, he would not have written the memoir. The very existence of Night proves that Eliezer was not devoid of life and hope.

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