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PLOT SYNOPSIS AND NOTES FOR NIGHT BY ELIE WIESEL
The prisoners are taken to Birkenau, the reception or holding center for Auschwitz. Immediately, the men and women are separated. Elie and his father go to the men's line on the left. Elie's mother and sisters join the women's line on the right. This is the last time ever that Elie will ever see his mother and youngest sister.
While Elie and his father are waiting in line, they are secretly told by one of the Jewish residents that they should lie about their age, saying that they are eighteen and forty. He explains that these are ideal ages to the Nazis, and the lie will help them to survive the selection process. Also while they are waiting, one of the German SS officers comes out and screams at the Jews; he shouts that they are all going to Auschwitz to be burned. The Jews scream their objections in an exchange of foul words.
Dr. Mengele, a cruel SS medical officer, examines the deportees and questions them about their age and occupation. Elie, claiming to be eighteen and a farmer, is allowed to join the group of healthy men, along with his father. The sickly men, however, are separated; they will be sent to the crematorium.
Wiesel sees a wagon full of babies arriving in the camp. They are all unloaded and thrown into a ditch of fire. The sight terrorizes Elie and all other deportees; they grow fearful that the same fate awaits each of them. Elie tells his father that he would rather run through an electric wire and be shocked to death than suffer the slow agony of burning to death.
Elie and several other Jewish deportees are ordered to march towards the ditch of fire. When they are only two steps away from the fiery furnace, the soldiers order them to turn away and head for the barracks. It is the first of many tortures that Elie will have to face at Auschwitz. The men are then assigned their work detail. Elie and his father are assigned to Block 17 in Auschwitz. When they arrive there, they are threatened with machine guns and vicious dogs.
Elie recalls the misery of his first night in the concentration camp. He pledges, "Never shall I forget 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 those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."
At roll call the next morning, there is a band playing martial music. In the afternoon, Elie receives his tattoo - A7713. Endless days then pass by in a blur of roll call, work, meals, and sleep. Elie and his father do, however, encounter a relative, Stein from Antwerp. He is terribly worried about his wife and sons. Elie tries to calm him by saying that his own mother has been receiving letters from Stein's wife, Reisel. The news cheers Stein.
The Jews endure daily torture. Elie's father is beaten and knocked to the ground for asking where he can find a lavatory. Elie is so shocked at the brutality that he does not even try to intervene. He simply comes to his father's aid after the incident.
After several weeks in Auschwitz, Elie, his father, and about a hundred other prisoners are ordered out of the block. They are forced to march through the streets for a period of more than four hours. In the end, they find that they have been led to a new camp called Buna.
The scene at Birkenau, the reception center, is very touching. The fourteen-year-old Elie and his father are separated from Elie's mother and sisters. Elie will never see his mother or youngest sister again. Even though Elie and his father survive the selection process, they immediately must witness and endure horrendous torture. They are told, along with the other Jews, that they all will eventually be burned to death. Then they must watch as the old, weak men are lead away to the crematorium. They also witness a wagonload of babies being thrown into a ditch of fire. Elie is also told to march towards the ditch; when he is only two steps away from burning to death, he is told to turn away and go to his barracks.
In the morning at roll call, Elie notices that spring is in the air. It is ironic that the season of new life and new beginnings is the time when Elie's misery begins. Elie also notices the electric fence that surrounds the camp; its danger is marked by a skull, "a death's head." Elie tells his father that he would rather be electrocuted by the fence than endure a slower death by fire. He also realizes that he will never be able to escape from death in the concentration camp; it will perpetually surround him.
Elie's days are filled with a dull routine: roll call, work, meals, and bedtime. He finds that in order to endure the torture that he sees and experiences, he must steel himself against it, becoming less sensitive. When his father is beaten and knocked to the ground for asking to go to the bathroom, Elie does not try to intervene; he simply helps his father after the incident. After a week in camp, Elie has already learned the rule of self-preservation above all; he hates that he is becoming dehumanized.
On the eighth day of prison life, Elie's softer side is seen again. He tries to cheer a relative, named Stein, by telling him that his mother has been receiving letters from Stein's wife, who is her cousin. Although this is a lie, the news is a blessing to Stein. It also proves that Elie has not become totally insensitive.
At the end of the chapter, Elie, his father, and about one hundred other prisoners are led from Auschwitz. They are marched through the streets for more than four hours and finally find themselves at a new camp called Buna.