Summary and Analysis
Overcome by trauma, Elie's grief-laden spirit lies beyond pain. Desensitized to external stimulus, he joins the six hundred inmates of the children's block and lives in suspended animation as the front draws near Buchenwald. Only the thought of food permeates his numbness. Rumors arise that the Germans plan a mass annihilation. On April 5, an organized camp resistance refuses the Germans' orders to assemble; Elie joins others in returning to the block. At the rate of thousands per day, the camp is systematically emptied of inmates. No food is distributed to the twenty thousand remaining deportees for the next five days.
An alert sounds on April 10, when the camp officials plan to discharge 20,000 prisoners and blow up the buildings. The evacuation is postponed. Inmates sustain life by eating grass and discarded potato peelings foraged from the ground. The next morning, the resistance exerts pressure on their captors. The children lie on the ground while gunfire and grenades explode above them. Fleeing SS officers abandon the camp to the rebels. At 6:00 P. M., American tanks arrive at the gates.
The prisoners, distracted from revenge by starvation, relieve their hunger with rations of bread. Some young men venture into Weimar for potatoes, clothes, and sexual comfort with local girls. Three days after liberation, Elie contracts food poisoning. After two weeks of serious illness, he recovers enough to look at himself in the mirror for the first time since he left Sighet. He is unable to forget the cadaverous face that stares back at him.
With the conclusion of hostilities in the taut, tense conclusion to Night, the arrival of Allied forces effectively halts the Nazi enslavement of the Jews in this camp. However, the battle to reclaim ravaged spirits, to rehabilitate frail, diseased bodies, and to reunite families looms as large as the war to quell genocide. In terms of body, Elie is free, yet there is no freedom, no emotional reprieve for the sensitive, spiritual boy who once mourned Jewish martyrs of old and wept at his prayers in Sighet. Clearly bereft of will and lacking the strength to join the resistance, he hovers in a spiritual malaise and awaits whatever comes through the gate.
The final scene departs from earlier glimpses of camp life in the depersonalization of Buchenwald and in Elie's catatonic withdrawal from interest in life and self. The nameless, faceless evacuees from the camp matter little to Elie, who no longer clutches at friends or tends his father; even less do his thoughts center on vengeance. Turned inward by starvation, food poisoning, and a primitive form of emotional battery, he continues to fight for life in its most elemental state. The concluding action shows Elie marshalling enough energy to peer into a mirror to witness what torture and forced labor have done to his physical features and expression. The lifelessness of the eyes haunts him with palpable evidence of his nearness to the brink of death.