Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans

  photograph by George Kaddish
Two young boys Kovno ghetto, 1944.
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives

Major Holocaust Themes in Elie Wiesel’s Memoir, Night
Honey Kern
Cold Spring Harbor High School
Cold Spring Harbor, New York



The author of this unit, Honey Kern, Mandel '97, is the coordinator of The Holocaust/Genocide Project (HGP), which originated at Cold Spring Harbor High School, Long Island, New York. It is an interdisciplinary project on the Internet that enables students on a global level to dialogue with their peers, share ideas, conduct research, do common reading of books together online, and access professional authorities and data bases about information as it pertains to the Holocaust of WWII, other genocides, and current events. All issues of An End to Intolerance, an annual global magazine available on the HGP web site, can be downloaded and used in the classroom.


  • To understand a first-person narration account of one young person’s Holocaust experience from 1943-45.
  • To develop an awareness of historical documents and testimonies to study the Holocaust.
  • To develop an interest in poetry, video, art and music in collaboration with the memoir Night.
  • To encourage use of Internet resources for research and the proper use of MLA documentation.
  • To foster respect for each other’s opinions while encouraging good speaking skills for the group.
  • To encourage students to expand their study of the Holocaust during and after this unit.
  • To foster critical thinking skills in addition to humane, compassionate responses to the study of the Holocaust.
  • To look around at our community and world and take an action to make it a better place for all of us. 
  • To examine the role of the individual during the Holocaust:

in decision-making

as perpetrator

as bystander

in resistance

in the ghetto

in hiding

in transit

in the camps

as victim of dehumanization

as witness

Grade Level

Grades 11-12 

Curriculum Fit

English, Holocaust Studies


The choice of materials is determined by the particular class and is usually revised/updated each year. Here is a list of some material I make use of in reading Wiesel’s book with my classes.

Beethoven, Ludwig van. Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 61, on audio CD, performed by Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. Found in Isaac Stern: My First 79 Years, A Musical Celebration. New York: Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1999.

Conversations with Oprah One on One with Elie Wiesel (videocassette). Chicago, Ill. : Harpo Studios ; Distributed by King World, 1993. 

Days of Remembrance, April 3-10, 1994: Fifty Years Ago, Darkness Before Dawn : Planning Guide for Commemorative Programs. Washington, DC: US Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1994.

Stettinius Telegram. 6 Jun. 1944: 110.

Telegram from Chaim Barlas, Istanbul to Laurence A. Steinhardt, Ankara. 24 Jun. 1944: 113.

Hull Telegram. 25 Aug. 1944: 114-115.

Raoul Wallenberg’s last report to Sweden. 8 Dec. 1944: 319.

Facing Hate with Elie Wiesel and Bill Moyers. (videocassette) Princeton, NJ : Films for the Humanities, 1997, ©1991.

“The Fate of the Hungarian Jews,” article from Anti-Defamation League.

Fishman, Charles. “In Black Rain: for Elie Wiesel,” in The Death Mazurka: Poems. Lubbock, Tex: Texas Tech University Press, 1989.

Map of Hungary 1933

Raoul Wallenberg biography from The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation 

Spielberg, Steven and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Survivors of the Holocaust. (videocassette) Turner Home Entertainment, 1996.

Thirty Six Questions about the Holocaust”, published by Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1989.

Thorton, Thomas E.. “On Wiesel’s Night.” English Journal  Feb. 1990: 87. 

USHMM. Chronology of the Holocaust. 

USHMM. Photo of Elie Wiesel in Buchenwald,  Former prisoners of the "little camp" in Buchenwald stare out from the wooden bunks in which they slept three to a "bed." Elie Wiesel is pictured in the second row of bunks, seventh from the left, next to the vertical beam.

USHMM. Resources for teaching Night

USHMM Hungary after the German occupation.

“What Makes Hungary Unique,” by Phillips and Solomon, from Past/Forward, the newsletter of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, Jul. 1996.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York : Bantam Books, 1982.

Wiesel, Elie. "'Stay Together, Always." (survivor memoir) Newsweek. 16 Jan. 1995: 58.

Wiesel, Elie. "Why I Write." New York Times Book Review. 14 Apr. 1985: 13-14.

Wiesel, Elie. "This Honor Belongs to All Survivors." Nobel Prize acceptance speech delivered in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1986. 

Yad Vashem. Holocaust Resource Center. Historic Timeline 1933-1945.

Procedure / Strategy

Days 1 and 2

  1. Prepare classroom by having students put up posters and enlarged timeline around the room.
  2. Students should write down any questions they have as they go about this work.
  3. If possible, for discussion, seat the class in a circle. It's important to see and hear each student. Discuss the upcoming plans of the unit, and ask the students what they have learned or know about the Holocaust previously from social studies classes or elsewhere, and how they would "define" the Holocaust.
  4. Put some definitions on the board and let students discuss them. Review terms like "prejudice, stereotype, intolerance, genocide."
  5. Hand out pamphlet of 36 questions from Simon Wiesenthal Center and tell students that the pamphlet may be a good resource to review from time to time. (See "Materials")
  6. Depending on the group's knowledge and questions, review the period between the end of WWI and 1933 in Germany.
  7. Assign the major topics from the timeline: the rise of the National Socialist German Workers Party and Hitler, the Enabling Act, book burning, Nuremberg Laws, German Aryan racial policy, Evian Conference, Kristallnacht, German invasion of Poland for student research to be shared orally in class in two days. Encourage students to use the Internet to gather information, stressing MLA method of citing of sources for electronic data. Review MLA method of citation for e-mail, CD-ROM, WWW site, newsgroups, and other sources.
  8. Encourage students to keep a "journal" of their questions and reactions while they read and discuss during this unit. The teacher should keep a journal, too, even if re-reading the book.
  9. Hand out Thorton poem to students to read and save for discussion after the entire unit is complete.

Day 3

  1. Familiarize students with terms from Night that they might not know: Beadle, Hasidic, Cabbala, Talmud, Maimonides, synagogue, Palestine, fascist, Gestapo, "deportation," Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buna, Buchenwald, sonder-kommando, kapo, Kaddish, musulman, and other terms.
  2. Hand out map of Hungary/Romania and Sighet to show where Wiesel lived. (in "Materials")
  3. Begin reading the text aloud, reminding students that it is non-fiction and of Wiesel's age at the time of his experience, that Wiesel took a 10 year vow of silence after the war, that the book was originally 800 pages, that it was originally written in French.
  4. Read from beginning of text to the arrival of German troops in Sighet. Discuss life in Sighet, Wiesel's relationship with his father, the people's attitude of hope, optimism, disbelief, and Moshe the Beadle and his warning. Talk about "making decisions" in the reading so far.
  5. Homework: Assign reading of Night: into the ghettos, big and small, to point of deportation.

Days 4 and 5

  1. Several students give "brief" oral reports of research; post these on the walls near timeline reference. Allow time for questions.
  2. Discuss the ghettos and the effects on families and the individual. What became important to the individual? How did each react? What was the "set-up" of the ghetto? How did it function? Why were the Jews still optimistic? Where were the non-Jewish neighbors? What happened to the synagogue?
  3. Discuss euphemism, the term: "deportation" and its real meaning.
  4. Hand out documents from USHMM regarding the deportation of Hungarian Jews. (see "Materials") Discuss.
  5. Homework: Assign reading of Night: in transport, the cattle car, arrival at Birkenau.

Days 6, 7, 8, and 9

  1. Discuss conditions of the train transport, the individual reactions, Madame Schacter, the dehumanization process, the "dream-like" quality of Wiesel's experience.
  2. Student oral research findings continue. Teacher shows photos/pictures of Auschwitz/Birkenau.
  3. Homework: Assign reading of Night: the camp experience to the second hanging. Journal writing.
  4. The following topics are discussed:
  • Wiesel's first experiences at Birkenau (it's important to get students' reactions to this). 
  • Who was Dr. Mengele? (Student research report) What was daily life like? in Birkenau? in Buna?
  • Have students list on board the entire "dehumanization" process in the camp. What was its final purpose? How is it related to students' research reports? Read aloud some student journal entries. 
  • How did different individuals cope, act/react, resist, within the camp experience?
  • How did Wiesel's relationship with his father undergo change during this time? Why?
  • What is the significance of the soup suicide, the two hangings, and Wiesel's use of the words "night/nightmare"?
  • Where was "God" in the camps?
  1. Show video of survivor excerpt from Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Holocaust. Leave time at end of each class session for written comments/oral questions from class.
  2. Homework: Assign reading in Night: from Rosh Hashanah to the evacuation of the camp. Journal writing.

Days 10,11,12

  1. Discuss the following topics:

  • Fear: connotation and denotation of "selection."

  • The "inheritance" given to Elie by his father.

  • Decision-making (to evacuate or not). 

  1. Homework: Assign reading in Night: the death march to Buchenwald. Journal keeping. Select student to rehearse and present aloud Wiesel's Nobel Prize acceptance speech at the end of the unit.

Days 13 and 14

  1. Discuss the following topics: 
  • How old was Elie at that time? How had he changed?

  • Conditions during the death march. How did individuals react?

  • Other father/son relationships; the Rabbi and his son.

  • Juliek and his violin playing the Beethoven Concerto. Point out that Jews were not allowed to play Beethoven.

  1. After discussion, play the tape of the violin concerto. If possible, have a student in the class play several bars of the concerto on the violin. Students should write in their journals about their responses to the reading so far, to the music, or to Juliek. Read aloud several responses.
  2. Homework: Finish reading Night.

Day 15

  1. Students re-read, aloud from the text, Wiesel’s description of the death of his father and his response, followed by reading of students’ journal responses.
  2. Several students take turns re-reading aloud, from the last pages of the text, the “resistance” at Buchenwald, the arrival of American troops, and Wiesel’s look into the mirror.
  3. Distribute handout of the poem by Charles Fishman, “In Black Rain." Point out the imagery and purpose of the title of the poem and the title of Wiesel’s memoir. What are the connotations of “night” and  “black rain” and the “realities” of those titles?

Final Discussion and Concluding Activities

  1. Who are the perpetrators, the victims, and the bystanders in Wiesel’s text? What have we learned from this? 
  2. Where are examples of courage, moral dignity, and compassion in Wiesel’s text? What can we learn from this? 
  3. What is significant about Wiesel’s language and use of irony? 
  4. Formal presentation of Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (with podium if possible).
  5. Video: Choose excerpt from one of the videos of Wiesel listed in “Materials” and see his face and hear his voice.
  6. Visit to the classroom of a Holocaust survivor, if possible. This is such an important part of learning.
  7. Rescue: Discuss Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest, Hungary. Have a panel of students discuss what Wallenberg did, why it was important, the danger involved, and what happened to Wallenberg after the Russians arrived. (Handout: related Wallenberg documents listed in “Materials”).

In Black Rain: for Elie Wiesel (reprinted with permission of poet, Dr. Charles Fishman)

Some nights only leaves talk 

Not a spark catches flame 

Not a dog barks

It is cold and late only you walk

street after empty street

Each yellow leaf is a smoldering star: 

torn from a million jackets.

not one could be extinguished

Forty years have scattered 

but, in black rain, you burn.

Evaluation / Extension 

  1. Journal Writing: Choose a quote from Wiesel’s memoir and tell why it was meaningful to you. Share quotes/explanations in class with teacher input. Use MLA citation.
  2. Supplemental Poem: Why did the teacher give out the Thorton poem on the first day? Why did we read Night, and did we fulfill Thorton’s wish? 
  3. Artistic Creations: Encourage poets/artists/musicians in the class to submit their works during our reading of Night.
  4. Current Events: What is happening in the world today that is related to the Holocaust? Bring in articles from newspapers, magazines, etc., and discuss what we each can do.
  5. Take an Action: Write a letter; interview a survivor; read another book related to the Holocaust and review it; recommend a website; volunteer to do email with students elsewhere who are studying the Holocaust and other genocides and/or also reading Night; research and report on another genocide in history; do fundraising for human rights and the oppressed; organize a library display on this topic; do “peer” teaching; publish a newsletter containing historical information and other resources for students that would be helpful to next year’s class when they read Night.


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