Night

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Themes and Colors
Having and Losing Faith in God Theme Icon
Inhumanity Theme Icon
Fathers and Sons Theme Icon
Guilt and Inaction Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Night, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Inhumanity Theme Icon

One of the legacies of the Holocaust is the sheer scale of one group of people's inhumanity towards other groups of people. In the case of the Jews, the German government and German society attempted to redefine them as sub-human, and then as creatures who deserved to die.

But Night doesn't just focus on the Nazis and their seemingly endless diabolical behavior (concentration camp doctors—those who swear an oath to do no harm—are some of the worst offenders imaginable). The book also looks at what it is like for an adolescent to live in a situation where he and those around him are no longer treated as humans. The loss of humanity among the victims leads to all kinds of cruelty and callousness among the prisoners as they struggle to survive—prisoners are vicious towards each other, those with small powers abuse them, children abandon parents, starving people kill each other for scraps of food. In the cattle car on the way to Auschwitz, people strike a woman to keep her quiet, something they never would have done in the village. As Eliezer's father lies in his sickbed, near death, other invalids beat him up because he smells bad. Through Night, Elie Wiesel makes the point that when people are treated as subhuman and are subjected to the constant threat of death, they may lose the ability to act like a decent person—even towards others in the same situation. Empathy is one of the finest human qualities, but it can be crushed.

Inhumanity ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Night related to the theme of Inhumanity.
Chapter 1 Quotes
"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. 

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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 2 Quotes
"Fire! I can see a fire! I can see a fire!"
Related Characters: Madame Schachter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is another chilling indication of what is to come. As the Jews are crowded by the Nazis into a cattle car for their days-long journey to the camps, Madame Schachter loses her mind and begins screaming. This is the first sign of the effects of Nazi cruelty. Madame Schachter's reaction is, in a sense, prophetic – she says she sees fire and furnaces. Of course, the furnaces of Auschwitz are where many of these prisoners are headed.

As when Moché the Beadle returned home with seemingly unbelievable horror stories, though, the prisoners do not see truth in her words, and instead tie her up and gag her to keep her quiet. This is the first example Eliezer witnesses of the chain of cruelty that snakes through the camps. Nazi cruelty towards the Jews creates an atmosphere of fear and anger that causes the Jews to be cruel to one another. The more the Nazis treat the Jews as inhuman, the more the Jews are unable to care for one another. It is one of the worst legacies of Eliezer's time in the camps that, since the Nazis created the conditions in which the Jews would abuse one another, Eliezer is forced to feel guilt for the rest of his life. 

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. 

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. 

That night the soup tasted of corpses.
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Soup has a marked significance in the book, since getting food becomes the most important objective of the prisoners as they lose their humanity bit by bit. Soup is also particularly important in this section of the book about public executions. In describing one execution, Wiesel notes that Jewish prisoners assisted in the execution of one of their own in exchange for an extra bowl of soup. In this way, soup is a weapon of the Nazis – it incentivizes Jews to be cruel to other prisoners in exchange for something they desperately need. At the same time, that any of the Jews would assist the Nazis for as little as a measly bowl of soup shows just how far the Nazis have been able to dehumanize and break down the Jews in the camp.

After watching an earlier execution, Eliezer describes the soup as tasting better than ever, perhaps indicating that he has become too protective of his own life to be particularly concerned for the lives of others. After watching the execution of the young boy in which he loses his faith, though, the soup tastes like corpses – this perhaps gestures towards the despair Eliezer feels at his loss of faith, and likely also at his sense that he is complicit in some way in the circus of cruelty he is witnessing. 

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 6 Quotes
Pitch darkness. Every now and then, an explosion in the night. They had orders to fire on any who could not keep up. Their fingers on the triggers, they did not deprive themselves of this pleasure. If one of us stopped for a second, a sharp shot finished off another filthy son of a bitch.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Night
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

In the hospital, Eliezer and his father couldn't decide whether to evacuate the camp with the rest of the prisoners, or remain in the hospital and take the risk that the Nazis might kill all the prisoners that stay. They chose to evacuate, despite his father's poor health and Eliezer's hurt foot. This choice leads them to experience one of their worst nights during the Holocaust, in which the prisoners are led on a more than forty mile death march through the snow. The marching prisoners are cold and starving, but if they slow for even a moment they are either shot by a Nazi or trampled by the prisoners behind them.

These conditions of fear and struggle for life itself invite cruelty, doubt, and despair. One man loses his father on purpose to increase his own odds for survival. Eliezer, whose father is deeply important to him, understands the man's choice nonetheless–the realization that he might be capable of a similar cruelty to his own father makes Eliezer realize the depth of the inhumanity to which he has succumbed, and to which all people can succumb. A big part of the permanent "night" that Eliezer experiences after the war is founded in this realization. 

We were masters of nature, masters of the world. We had forgotten everything—death, fatigue, our natural needs. Stronger than cold or hunger, stronger than the shots and the desire to die, condemned and wandering, mere numbers, we were the only men on earth.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, like the one in which Eliezer rejects the Rosh Hashana prayer, Wiesel frames absence of faith as a strength, in that it allows him to focus on the concrete concerns of how to keep himself alive. This passage comes in a moment when Eliezer is performing an inhuman feat– starving, injured, and sleep deprived he is moving quickly for hours and hours through the snow under threat of death. Instead of feeling that he isn't up to the task, Eliezer is so dehumanized – so disconnected from his body and self – that he doesn't feel daunted by what he's up against.

There's a religious undertone to this passage, despite the fact that faith seems irrelevant to what Wiesel describes. The first sentence seems to imply that humans have replaced God as the most powerful forces on earth. This seems of a piece with Eliezer's loss of faith, which occurred because humans were able to commit unthinkable atrocities that God did not prevent. However, his description of the Jews as "condemned and wandering" is a subtle Biblical allusion to the historical sufferings of the Jewish people. Throughout the book, though Wiesel proclaims to have lost his faith, he still understands the world through the lens of Judaism.

He played a fragment from Beethoven's concerto. I had never heard sounds so pure. In such silence.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Juliek
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout Night, Wiesel gives us images that seem to promise some kind of redemption (however small) and then ultimately succumb to brutality. This is one of those. The prisoners have finished the death march and are allowed to get some rest. Juliek and his violin have been spared against all odds, and he plays a bit of Beethoven while people are trying to sleep. This is a moment of beauty in which the Jews are reclaiming something beautiful in the face of one of the worst nights of suffering imaginable.

However, when Eliezer wakes up, Juliek is dead and his violin is crushed. This horrific outcome to a moment of beauty gives the sense of the relentlessness of the brutality of the Holocaust and the futility of hope for redemption. Eliezer and his father have survived the death march, an improbable feat. However, the death of Juliek, an embodiment of beauty, is a reminder that even this most recent improbable survival guarantees nothing. 

Chapter 7 Quotes
Twenty bodies were thrown out of our wagon. Then the train resumed its journey, leaving behind it a few hundred naked dead, deprived of burial, in the deep snow of a field in Poland.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Jews are thrown into a cattle car yet again to be brought to another camp. Unlike the first journey, they are now weak and dehumanized. There is barely any distinction between the many in the car who are dead and those who are alive. Throughout the book, Eliezer's sensitivity to death has diminished. While he once felt horrified by the Nazi spectacles of death, he is no longer surprised or moved by death in circumstances of cruelty. This is apparent in his off-hand description of twenty bodies being thrown from the train into the snow. This passage gives a sense of hopelessness, and of how far from their original values the prisoners have come. They barely try to discern who is and isn't dead before taking people's clothes and throwing them from the train. While a Jewish death without a proper burial would have once been unimaginable, at this point it is barely remarked on.

We were given no food. We lived on snow; it took the place of bread. The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Night
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Wiesel describes the days-long train journey in which the Jews are crowded onto a cattle car and not fed. This is not even how someone would treat livestock – concern for humanity is completely irrelevant here. The Jews in the cattle cars survive solely by eating snow, and witness incredible cruelty. People outside the train amuse themselves by throwing in bits of bread and watching the prisoners fight to the death over the scraps, including one man who kills his own father and then is killed himself before he gets to eat.

Without even the escape of work or the minimal personal space of the camps, the prisoners descend into a new kind of despair that Wiesel elucidates, again, with the metaphor of night. Daylight is no longer a reprieve, and night is unbearable. It's important to note the "their" in the line, "nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls." Wiesel is acknowledging the complexity of the cruelty between prisoners. He describes this as Nazi darkness that is infecting Jewish souls – it is Nazi cruelty that created the conditions for Jewish cruelty. Even while the behavior of the prisoners demoralizes him, Eliezer still recognizes that this behavior has been, in some sense, externally imposed. 

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.

The last day had been the most murderous. A hundred of us had got into the wagon. A dozen of us got out—among them, my father and I.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Chlomo
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout Night, the attrition of human lives has been startling. Wiesel describes, over and over, the numbers of people who did not survive each step of their journey. This last day of the train trip had abysmally low survival rates, but somehow – against all odds – Eliezer and his father are still alive when they reach their destination.

The bond between Eliezer and his father is one of the only human elements that remains as the book gets darker and more desperate, and we get the sense that, even while their commitment to one another slows them down and forces them into risky situations, the love between Eliezer and his father is one of the only things keeping them alive. The importance of this love is emphasized by Meir Katz's decision to stay with the dead on the train (which essentially amounts to suicide). Despite the fact that Katz is one of the strongest men, his grief for his dead son makes him unable to continue.

Chapter 8 Quotes
"Don't let me find him! If only I could get rid of this dead weight, so that I could use all my strength to struggle for my own survival, and only worry about myself." Immediately I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed forever.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Chlomo
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

After everything Eliezer and his father have been through, Eliezer still feels impulses to abandon his father to increase his own odds of survival. This moral conflict is at the heart of the book, and despite Eliezer's shame at his own feelings, his ability to feel conflicted at all about his father indicates that he still has some humanity left.

While Eliezer is never outright cruel to his father like some sons are in the camps, he often feels that his inaction in the face of others' cruelty to his father and his secret desires to be rid of his father are just as bad. It's a conflict that the book never resolves. While Eliezer's inaction and secret feelings are understandable in the face of the incredible risks and sacrifices that protecting his father would entail, Wiesel never allows himself to fully justify his actions. He holds himself accountable to what he sees as his own moral failings, even though those failings were provoked by unimaginable cruelty towards him.

Oh, to strangle the doctor and the others! To burn the whole world! My father's murderers! But the cry stayed in my throat.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker), Dr. Mengele
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Eliezer's father is very sick with dysentery and it's likely that he won't survive. The doctors refuse to give sick people food and won't treat his father, which inspires in Eliezer a murderous rage that, of course, he never acts on. This is one of the rare moments in the book when Eliezer expresses a fantasy that seems to echo Nazi behavior – he wants "to burn the whole world," which is what, it must have seemed to him, the Nazis were doing.

It's important that what brings these feelings out in him is witnessing cruelty towards his father, not cruelty directed towards Eliezer himself. This is another example of the importance of his relationship with his father. In a sense, his father has replaced religion as the emotional locus of his life; his father is essentially the only thing left that can provoke an emotional reaction in Eliezer. Still, this rage does not inspire Eliezer to actually act on his fantasies of avenging the Nazi cruelty, and so it forces Eliezer also to face his inability to defend his father.

Chapter 9 Quotes
Our first act as free men was to throw ourselves onto the provisions. We thought only of that. Not of revenge, not of our families. Nothing but bread.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Eliezer has been at Buchenwald for a few months, and, without his father, has had barely any will to live. When Buchenwald is liberated, the Jews are at the end of many, many months of physical exhaustion and have have witnessed unimaginable suffering and cruelty – as an indication of the inhumanity they have been reduced to, Wiesel notes that, once liberated, they only thought of food. All human concerns had become secondary to basic bodily needs, and they gorged themselves on bread rather than contemplating the meaning of their freedom, or fantasizing about revenge, or considering the families they lost or the ones that they might now be able to reunite with. Just as it took time for them to become dehumanized in the camps, the process of returning to the world of human concerns also takes time. The impact of the Nazis, in fact, would last a lifetime – Eliezer was never able to return to the values, interests, and joy he once took for granted. 

One day I was able to get up, after gathering all my strength. I wanted to see myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.
Related Characters: Eliezer (speaker)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eliezer sees himself for the first time since he left home for the camps. The time in between has brought emotional and physical torture – starvation, the death march, beatings, and very little healthcare, among other cruelties. When Eliezer looks in the mirror, he sees a corpse – not even a person, but a dead body.

By this description  he invokes the physical toll that the Holocaust has taken on his body (emaciated as he was, his face must have seemed little more than a skull), and also the spiritual toll. When he looked at himself, he no longer recognized himself as human. By this point he had lost his faith in God and his faith in humanity, and he couldn't even take refuge in his own honorable behavior due to his guilt over his passivity in protecting his father. Wiesel was so emotionally and physically degraded that, when he looked in the mirror, he did not identify himself as human. This is the ultimate testament to the Nazi horrors that he experienced.