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Translated into 30 languages, the book ranks as one of the bedrocks of Holocaust literature. It remains unclear how much of Night is memoir. Wiesel called it his deposition, but scholars have had difficulty approaching it as an unvarnished account. The literary critic Ruth Franklin writes that the pruning of the text from Yiddish to French transformed an angry historical account into a work of art.
That changed at midnight on Sunday, 18 March 1944, with the invasion of Hungary by Nazi Germany, and the arrival in Budapest of SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann to oversee the deportation of the country's Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. From 5 April, Jews over the age of six had to wear a 10 x 10 cm (3.8 x 3.8 in) yellow badge on the upper-left side of their coats or jackets. Jews had to declare the value of their property, and were forbidden from moving home, travelling, owning cars or radios, listening to foreign radio stations, or using the telephone. Jewish authors could no longer be published, their books were removed from libraries, and Jewish civil servants, journalists and lawyers were sacked.
Night opens in Sighet in 1941. The book's narrator is Eliezer, an Orthodox Jewish teenager who studies the Talmud by day, and by night "weep[s] over the destruction of the Temple". To the disapproval of his father, Eliezer spends time discussing the Kabbalah with Moshe[a] the Beadle, caretaker of the Hasidic shtiebel (house of prayer).
Here came the Rabbi, his back bent, his face shaved ... His mere presence among the deportees added a touch of unreality to the scene. It was like a page torn from some story book ... One by one they passed in front of me, teachers, friends, others, all those I had been afraid of, all those I once could have laughed at, all those I had lived with over the years. They went by, fallen, dragging their packs, dragging their lives, deserting their homes, the years of their childhood, cringing like beaten dogs.
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.
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 had stopped for a second, a sharp shot finished off another filthy son of a bitch.
The inmates spend two days and nights in Gleiwitz locked inside cramped barracks without food, water or heat, sleeping on top of one another, so that each morning the living wake with the dead underneath them. There is more marching to the train station and onto a cattle wagon with no roof. They travel for ten days and nights, with only the snow falling on them for water. Of the 100 in Eliezer's wagon, 12 survive the journey. The living make space by throwing the dead onto the tracks:
His father is in another block, sick with dysentery. The other men in his bunk, a Frenchman and a Pole, attack him because he can no longer go outside to relieve himself. Eliezer is unable to protect him. "Another wound to the heart, another hate, another reason for living lost." Begging for water one night from his bunk, where he has lain for a week, Chlomo is beaten on the head with a truncheon by an SS officer for making too much noise. Eliezer lies in the bunk above and does nothing for fear of being beaten too. He hears his father make a rattling noise, "Eliezer". In the morning, 29 January 1945, he finds another man in his father's place. The Kapos had come before dawn and taken Chlomo to the crematorium.
When he said Jesus again I couldn't take it, and for the only time in my life I was discourteous, which I regret to this day. I said, "