Wiesel's novel, which was originally written in Yiddish and translated to French in 1958, is about his experience as a young Jewish boy from Transylvania who was sent to concentration camps (Auschwitz then Buchenwald) in 1944. Weisel and his father were immediately separated from his mother and sister after a harrowing train ride to the camp (the mother and the sister were killed immediately).
The book is hopeless and heart-wrenching and the fact that he survived at all is rather astounding. What Wiesel makes clear is that those who did survive were robbed of their humanity - he describes how his body sort of went on autopilot, as, starved and abused, he nevertheless was able to run and work for long periods. He describes how men killed each other for a piece of bread, and how, ultimately, he turned his back on his father for fear that he would be beaten himself. Wiesel's honesty about his own most shameful moments are, simply, agonizing to read. He is a brave, brave man to expose himself. However painful to read, his book is a gift. He writes in his preface:
For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear; his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.