Night

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Having and Losing Faith in God Theme Analysis

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Having and Losing Faith in God Theme Icon
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Having and Losing Faith in God Theme Icon

One of the main themes of Night is Eliezer's loss of religious faith. Throughout the book, Eliezer witnesses and experiences things that he cannot reconcile with the idea of a just and all-knowing God.

At the beginning of the narrative, Eliezer declares, "I believed profoundly." He is twelve years old and his life is centered around Judaism—studying the Talmud during the day, praying at the synagogue at night until he weeps with religious feeling. He wants to study the cabbala (Jewish mysticism), but his father says he's too young. Despite this, Eliezer finds a teacher in town, a poor man named Moché the Beadle, and the two of them pore over cabbalistic questions. Eliezer's faith in God is shared by many of his fellow Jews in the town of Sighet. On the trains to the concentration camps, people discuss the banishment from their homes as trial sent from God to be endured—a test of faith.

But Eliezer's belief in God begins to falter at the concentration camps of Birkenau-Aushwitz. Here the furnaces are busy night and day burning people. Here he watches German soldiers throw truckloads of babies and small children into the flames. The longer he stays in the concentration camps, the more he sees and experiences cruelty and suffering. People treat others worse than they would livestock. He can no longer believe that a God who would permit such nightmare places to exist could be just. The fact that many Jews do continue to pray, to recite the Talmud, and to look for comfort in their faith while in the concentration camp amazes and confounds Eliezer. That people would still pray to a God who allows their families to be gassed and incinerated suggests to Eliezer that people are stronger and more forgiving than the God they pray to. Later, as more people die, and others around him lose hope, starve, and succumb, Eliezer ceases to believe that God could exist at all. He is not alone in his disillusionment. Akiba Drumer (whose faith helps Eliezer endure for a while) as well as a rabbi whom Eliezer talks to, also eventually come to believe that God's existence is impossible in a world that contains such a large-scale, willful horror as the Holocaust. The final nail in the coffin, for Eliezer's faith, comes at Buna, where the prisoners are gathered to watch the hanging of a young boy. A man in the crowd asks, "Where is God now?" Eliezer's internal response is that God is that boy on the gallows. The boy dies slowly as the prisoners are forced to watch.

Having and Losing Faith in God ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Having and Losing Faith in God appears in each chapter of Night. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Having and Losing Faith in God Quotes in Night

Below you will find the important quotes in Night related to the theme of Having and Losing Faith in God.
Chapter 1 Quotes
I was twelve. I believed profoundly. During the day I studied the Talmud, and at night I ran to the synagogue to weep over the destruction of the Temple.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The opening of the book establishes the peaceful atmosphere of Eliezer's childhood that is about to be turned inside out. Eliezer lives with his family in a staunchly Jewish community. Faith is the guiding principle of his life – he loves God, just as everyone he knows does, and his intellectual and emotional life is structured around religion. His intellectual curiosity is channeled into the Torah and the Talmud, and he longs to study cabbala, which is known for attracting Jewish intellectuals.

As he writes in this quote, during the nights he wept over "the destruction of the temple." This shows, too, that his faith was not only intellectual – faith was something that roused his emotions in significant ways. God made him think and feel deeply. This early explanation of the importance of Eliezer's faith allows readers to understand the magnitude of the loss he feels later in the camps when he can no longer believe in God. 

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"I have been saved miraculously. I managed to get back here. Where did I get the strength from? I wanted to come back to Sighet to tell you the story of my death. So what you could prepare yourselves while there was still time… I wanted to come back, and to warn you. And see how it is, no one will listen to me…"
Related Characters: Moché the Beadle (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the first indication that something is deeply amiss, and yet also at the tendency for people to not want to believe in horrors that might uproot their lives. In this case, Eliezer's community largely ignores the warnings from Moché the Beadle because what he describes seems too awful to be real. Moché's warning offers an opportunity for the Jews to leave Eastern Europe, but nobody heeds Moché the Beadle's warning because to take his words seriously would be to acknowledge a reality that nobody is prepared to live with.

What Eliezer notices about Moché the Beadle is that his faith – which was once all consuming – seems to have slipped. Here, Moché the Beadle says that he was "saved miraculously" and "managed to get back here." But he does not attribute the strength that this took to God's intervention, as Eliezer would have assumed. Instead, Moché the Beadle is concerned with the human over the divine – he says he found the strength to return so that he could save his community. This foreshadows the loss of faith and the futility of gestures of humanity that occur in the rest of the book. 

Night. No one prayed, so that the night would pass quickly. The stars were only sparks of the fire which devoured us. Should that fire die out one day, there would be nothing left in the sky but dead stars, dead eyes.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire, Night
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an early indication of the fear that the Jews are facing as waves of deportations occur and people are reshuffled into worse and worse living quarters. Nobody knows what will happen to them and they shift between optimism and despair – this passage describes a night in which nobody hopes. At this moment, Eliezer has not yet lost his faith, but this is a sign of it waning; he and his community do not pray amid chaos because they don't want to prolong the awful night.

This passage illuminates the significance of two of the book's most prominent symbols. Here, night is seen as a time in which fear and despair dominate and faith is scant. Wiesel later described his life after the Holocaust as "one long night" – this moment, which Eliezer hopes will be temporary, is actually representative of an experience that will scar him profoundly and forever. Fire, too, is important here. While fire in religious texts is sacramental and even good, this passage shows fire as negative. To describe the fire as "consuming us" foreshadows the fires of the death camps.

Chapter 3 Quotes
Humanity? Humanity is not concerned with us. Today anything is allowed. Anything is possible, even these crematories.
Related Characters: Eliezer, Chlomo
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Jews have just arrived at the concentration camp of Birkenau, and they are confronted with a scene worse than they could have imagined. They see flames everywhere, and the air smells like burning flesh. At this moment, they understand that death is surrounding them, but they still do not understand the magnitude of this depravity. Another prisoner tells Eliezer and his father that they are to be burned, and Eliezer tells him he doesn't believe it because humanity wouldn't tolerate burning someone as young as he is. The other prisoner's response is that humanity is not present there. 

It's significant that Eliezer objects to the possibility of being burned on the grounds that humanity, not God, wouldn't allow it; this is another indication that he is losing his faith. Watching the chaos around him, Eliezer seems not to assume anymore that God is a significant presence – he is more concerned with what humans will and won't do. 

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire, Night
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

On their first night in the camp, Eliezer and his father stand before the pits of flames in which babies and children are being burned alive. Neither one of them knows yet whether they will see the morning, or whether they also will be killed before sunrise. This is the major turning point of the book, in which Eliezer witnesses a scene so unimaginable and inhuman that he can no longer assume that a good and just God is looking after him or the world. 

Eliezer describes his loss of faith as turning his life into "one long night." Considering the place faith occupied in his life before the camps, it makes sense that the loss of it would leave him bereft intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. In the camps, there is nothing to replace faith with – nothing to study, no nourishing human interactions. Eliezer's loss of faith is synonymous with his dehumanization, in which he slowly becomes only a body in search of survival. Night, then, represents in part the void of positive influences to bolster him, and the darkness of not knowing what will come. 

Fire, too, is potent in this passage, and it is clear that its significance is negative. It is the fire transfiguring babies into "wreaths of smoke" and simultaneously devouring Eliezer's faith. Fire here is the evil of the Nazis – it is what burns away what is most cherished from Eliezer. 

Some talked of God, of his mysterious ways, of the sins of the Jewish people, and of their future deliverance. But I had ceased to pray. How I sympathized with Job! I did not deny God's existence, but I doubted his absolute justice.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Eliezer clarifies here his statement about his faith being consumed by the flames. This does not yet signify his utter loss of faith – he still believes that God exists. However, his views about the nature of God have dramatically shifted in that he does not assume that God is good or just anymore. He cannot trust God to protect him, and he does not believe, like some others, that the experiences in the camps could be God testing the Jews before their eventual deliverance.

Put another way, even though Eliezer still believes there is a God, God is no longer a relevant force in his life, which is tantamount to loss of faith. God is not somebody to whom he can appeal or in whom he can place his trust. It's significant that this occurs after just one night in the camps. That someone with faith as profound as Eliezer's at the beginning of the book can be disillusioned so quickly indicates the magnitude of Nazi atrocity. Wiesel invites us to consider how much evil it would take to reverse someone's faith in only one night.

Chapter 4 Quotes
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
"Where is God now?"
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
"Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows. . . . "
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eliezer and the other prisoners are required to witness public executions of Jews who have disobeyed the Nazis. This is a cruel and inhuman tactic that the Nazis used to instil fear and discipline in the Jewish prisoners. While Eliezer witnessed many public executions, the most memorable one was the execution of a young boy. When another prisoner asks "Where is God now?" in the face of this spectacle, Eliezer realizes that he has entirely lost his faith. Not only does he not believe in the goodness of God, he no longer believes in God's existence at all.

Throughout the book, it is witnessing acts of inhumanity towards children that most affects Eliezer. Eliezer grew up expecting to be protected by his father and by his family; his community respected children, and it was a given for him that he would be safe because others were watching. It is witnessing the Nazi disregard for the dignity and vulnerability of children that most terrifies Eliezer, because it signifies a breakdown of the most fundamental social order, and it drives home Eliezer's own vulnerability and isolation. The execution of the young boy by the Nazis is, to Eliezer, something that could only happen in a world with no God. 

Chapter 5 Quotes
"Yes, man is very strong, greater than God. When You were deceived by Adam and Eve, You drove them out of Paradise. When Noah's generation displeased You, You brought down the Flood… But these men here, whom You have betrayed, whom You have allowed to be tortured, slaughtered, gassed, burned, what do they do? They pray before You! They praise your name!"
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

On Rosh Hashana, Eliezer gathers with other Jews for a prayer. Eliezer, who has lost his faith, is unable to pray. Instead, he accuses God of powerlessness and cruelty. He points out a litany of punishments that the Bible recounts God having brought down on sinners, and then he invokes the seemingly innocent and helpless Jews in the camps who are subject to inhuman horrors. Eliezer points out the absurdity of all these Jews gathering to pray to a God who seems indifferent to their suffering. He even proclaims man to be greater than God, in that these Jews are showing more forgiveness and compassion for God than God seems to show for them.

While Eliezer has certainly lost his faith by this point, it is significant that he still has internal conversations with God and still tries to reason with the logic of faith. This doesn't necessarily indicate an ambivalence about his loss of faith – rather, it shows that faith had been previously so central to the way he saw the world that, in its absence, he still can't escape its logic. 

That day I had ceased to plead. I was no longer capable of lamentation. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God and without man. Without love or mercy. I had ceased to be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty, to whom my life had been tied for so long. I stood amid that praying congregation, observing it like a stranger.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Oddly, this moment of reckoning with his loss of faith seems to bolster Eliezer. Instead of allowing himself to hope that someone else will save him, this is a moment of Eliezer embracing that he is strong and capable and self-reliant without his faith. On the one hand, he frames this realization as resulting from his anger at God ("I was the accuser, God the accused") and on the other hand, he frames it as utter loss of faith ("I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God").

Regardless, this shows that Eliezer's experiences of horror and inhumanity have led him not only to lose his faith that was once so important, but also to repudiate it as a source of weakness. This passage is not entirely empowering, though – Eliezer describes himself as having "ceased to be anything but ashes." Despite feeling strong, the description of himself as being only ashes gestures towards his difficulty finding anything human within himself without his faith. 

"I've got more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He's the only one who's kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people. "
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

In this part of the book, Eliezer has just had surgery on his foot and there are rumors that the Red Army is approaching the camp. In this exchange, Eliezer's neighbor in the hospital tells him that he should not hope that the Red Army will save them, because Hitler has made it clear that he intends to kill all the Jews. Eliezer angrily asks whether they should be treating Hitler's words like he's a prophet, and the hospital neighbor then explains that Hitler is the only one who keeps his promises to the Jews. This is a sobering exchange that highlights the fact that the whole Holocaust has been, for Eliezer, a negotiation of trying not to believe that rumored horrors could be possible and then having his worst fears and beyond confirmed. The prisoner is right: there is no reason to hope, and every reason to believe the worst based on the experiences they have had. 

Chapter 7 Quotes
Hundreds of cries rose up simultaneously. Not knowing against whom we cried. Not knowing why. The death rattle of a whole convoy who felt the end upon them. We were all going to die here. All limits had been passed. No one had any strength left. And again the night would be long.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage occurs while Meir Katz, one of the strongest men left, is losing his will to live. It is startling for Eliezer to see this last bulwark of a man lose his strength, and this loss seems to be echoed everywhere as people in the cars wail desperately and their cries create a cascade of wailing across the train cars. This is a moment in which Eliezer sees everyone around him losing strength and he himself feels vulnerable – Meir Katz has just saved him from strangulation, and he feels that nobody has any energy left to go on. He is facing down death here as the only option left. There is nowhere to flee, and there is no concrete force he is up against except for his own fatigue. The hopelessness of this passage is cemented by the fact that Wiesel, at the end of it, invokes the difficulty of the coming night that nobody feels that they are prepared for.