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Free Study Guide for Night by Elie Wiesel-Summary/BookNotes/Synopsis
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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST

The holocaust, one of the darkest periods in history, really began in January of 1933 when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Believing that Aryans were superior to all others, he wanted to purge Germany of inferior races, especially the Jews. By March, Hitler had established himself as Dictator, had established his police organization known as the Gestapo, had withdrawn Germany from the League of Nations, and had established the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. During the spring and summer, persecution of the Jews intensified, and all Jewish government workers and university professors were fired. By July, Hitler had outlawed freedom of the press, labor unions, and all political parties except for the Nazis. In 1934, Hitler gave himself the title of Fuehrer and ordered the Gestapo to shoot or kill anyone who opposed his rule. In 1935, Hitler revoked German citizenship for all Jews and outlawed their marriage to Gentiles. In 1936, Hitler sent Nazi troops to occupy the Rhineland, next to France; it was in direct opposition to the Treaty of Versailles. He also allied himself with Italy and Japan. In 1938, Hitler seized Austria.


Throughout the 1930s, the persecution of the Jews continued. Jewish businesses were seized, synagogues were closed, property was stolen, children were banned from attending public schools, and families were forced from their homes. The Jews were usually made to move into ghetto areas. With the opening of Buchenwald in the summer of 1937, the arrests of Jews increased. By the start of 1939, Hitler had announced that his intention was to annihilate the Jewish race. He also continued his aggressive pursuit of more territory, capturing Czechoslovakia. Then in September of 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, causing the start of World War II. By the end of the year, he was operating six death camps, where large numbers of Jews and Communists were being tortured and murdered.

In 1940, Hitler captured Norway, Denmark, and France. In April, he also opened Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland; two and a half million prisoners would eventually be executed or die there. During the remainder of the first year of the war, Hitler opened another fifteen camps, for a total of twenty-two. Before the end of the war in 1945, more than eight million prisoners would be sent to the camps, and six million Jews would be murdered, both inside and outside the camps. At first the Nazis exterminated the Jewish people by firing squad, but later decided it was not an efficient method of death. They then developed special gas chambers to kill large groups of victims at the same time and crematoriums to burn both living and dead prisoners.

In 1941 (the year when the book began and Wiesel was twelve), the mass murder of Jews began in earnest; 170 were massacred in Bucharest and 33,000 at Babi Yar. It was also the year that Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered the war. By 1942, the widespread arrest and imprisonment of Jews was occurring, (including the arrest of Moshe the Beadle). Two years later, in 1944, all the Jews in Sighet, Romania, (including the Wiesel family), were sent to concentration camps; Elie and his father were transferred from Auschwitz to Buna. The Allied army also freed Paris.

By January of 1945, the Russian army was moving on the Nazis from the East, and the Allied forces were moving from the West. Fearing that the prisoners at Buna would be liberated, the Nazis forced them to walk through the snow to Gleiwitz and then travel in open cattle cars to Buchenwald. By February, Allied troops had reached the Rhine River, and Russian troops had liberated Auschwitz. In April, Allied forces reached Dachau and Buchenwald and freed the prisoners, including Elie Wiesel. In May, Germany surrendered to the Allies, and the war and the holocaust were finally over.

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