These short lines from Wiesel’s memoir Night are some of his best-known. They encompass the transformative nature of that one horrifying evening and what it meant for his future. Wiesel wrote this passage after realizing that he and his father have survived the first selection at Birkenau.
In these lines, Wiesel moves away from his traditional narration style that’s used throughout the rest of the book and considers how this one night of his life changed him forever. He speaks on the smoke, the stillness and quiet, and how if he lived as long as God he’d never forget what he saw and felt.
You can read the full passage here.
‘Never Shall I Forget’ by Elie Wiesel is a thirteen-line passage that is contained within a single paragraph. The lines have been translated from the original French. Therefore, there are very likely rhythmic differences between these lines and what Wiesel intended. But, that doesn’t mean that there are techniques and devices that should go entirely unmentioned.
This specific passage is the best-known from Night, Wiesel’s haunting memoir of his experiences during the Holocaust. The structure of this piece is such as to call forward connections to Psalm 150, a part of the Bible in which each line begins with “Hallelujah” or “Praise God”. This is just one more connection to religion and the part, or lack thereof, that it played in Wiesel’s experiences. Wiesel questions the existence of God in these lines, along with reflecting on his experiences, juxtaposing these lines against those from the Psalm.
Wiesel makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Never Shall I Forget’. These include but are not limited to repetition, anaphora, and end-punctuation. The first of these, repetition is seen through the use and reuse of words, images, or emotions within a work. In this case, it is obvious that Wiesel repeated certain phrases, such as “Never shall I forget” several times in the poem. There is also a repeated allusion to the Holocaust which is never mentioned by name and is only described by its nature.
Wiesel also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. In this case, the anaphora is quite obvious, the phrase “Never shall I forget” starts seven of the thirteen lines. The last line also begins with “Never”.
The last line of the poem is also a good example of end-punctuation. There are numbers lines that are enjambed, and several others are short and therefore more impactful in a different way. The last line is the best example of this but other examples include line three.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long
night seven times sealed.
transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith for ever.
In the first lines of ‘Never Shall I Forget’ the speaker begins with an allusion to the Holocaust and his personal experiences in “camp”. When a reader is aware of Wiesel’s personal history it is quite clear that he is referring to a Nazi concentration camp and how it “turned [his] life into one long night”. In context, the allusions are even clearer as this particular passage can be found in the third section of Wiesel’s famous memoir, Night.
Wiesel is reflecting, in this very famous passage, on the terror of the first night in the concentration camp, Birkenau, and how it changed him forever. There is a powerful use of imagery in these lines that helps those, who have never and never will, experience anything like this feel something of what Wiesel experienced at that time. He mentions the “smoke” and the “face of children” who were “transformed into smoke under a silent sky”. By repeating the phrase “Never shall I forget” the Wiesel is creating a mantra of sorts that feels as though it will truly remain in his thoughts forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the
desire to live.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live
as long as God Himself.
In the next lines of the passage, the speaker goes on to refer to all the things, which were once integral to his existence, which is never going to be the same again. These include his faith and the “desire to live”. His “God and…soul” were turned to “ashes” as were those around him. If this is the only passage that one reads from Night a reader can get a clear idea of how horribly powerful these realizations were for Wiesel and what it means for him to transform his way of thinking about himself and the world he is living in.
Despite stating that he has lost all faith in God earlier on in the passage, the last nights allude to the truth that he is still struggling with his faith. He refers to God’s existence as something ongoing and eternal. His heritage and religion is still a part of him, but the way he considers it has changed.