Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Salt Lake Tribune Just as she gave voice to the silent women of the Hebrew Bible in The Red Tent, Anita Diamant creates a cast of breathtakingly vivid characters—young women who escaped to Israel from Nazi Europe—in this intensely dramatic novel.
Day After Night is based on the extraordinary true story of the October 1945 rescue of more than two hundred prisoners from the Atlit internment camp, a prison for “illegal” immigrants run by the British military near the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa. The story is told through the eyes of four young women at the camp who survived the Holocaust: Shayndel, a Polish Zionist; Leonie, a Parisian beauty; Tedi, a hidden Dutch Jew; and Zorah, a concentration camp survivor. Haunted by unspeakable memories and losses, afraid to hope, the four of them find salvation in the bonds of friendship and shared experience even as they confront the challenge of re-creating themselves in a strange new country.
Diamant’s triumphant novel is an unforgettable story of tragedy and redemption that reimagines a singular moment in history with stunning eloquence.
Day After Night Prologue 1945, August The nightmares made their rounds hours ago. The tossing and whimpering are over. Even the insomniacs have settled down. The twenty restless bodies rest, and faces aged by hunger, grief, and doubt relax to reveal the beauty and the pity of their youth. Not one of the women in Barrack C is twenty-one, but all of them are orphans.
Their cheeks press against small, military-issue pillows that smell of disinfectant. Lumpy and flat from long service under heavier heads, they bear no resemblance to the goose-down clouds that many of them enjoyed in childhood. And yet, the girls burrow into them with perfect contentment, embracing them like teddy bears. There were no pillows for them in the other barracks. No one gives a pillow to an animal.
The British built Atlit in 1938 to house their own troops. It was one in a group of bases, garages, and storage units set up on the coastal plains a few miles south of Haifa. But at the end of the world war, as European Jews began making their way to the ancestral homeland in violation of international political agreements, the mandate in Palestine became ever messier. Which is how it came to pass that Atlit was turned into a prison or, in the language of command, a “detention center” for refugees without permissory papers. The English arrested thousands as illegal immigrants, sent most of them to Atlit, but quickly set them free, like fish too small to fry.
It was a perfectly forgettable compound of wooden barracks and buildings set out in rows on a scant square acre surrounded by weeds and potato fields. But the place offered a grim welcome to the exhausted remnant of the Final Solution, who could barely see past its barbwire fences, three of them, in fact, concentric lines that scrawled a crabbed and painful hieroglyphic across the sky.
Not half a mile to the west of Atlit, the Mediterranean breaks against a rocky shore. When the surf is high, you can hear the stones hiss and sigh in the tidal wash. On the eastern horizon, the foothills of the Carmel reach heavenward, in keeping with their name, kerem-el, “the vineyard of God.” Sometimes, the candles of a village are visible in the high distance, but not at this hour. The night is too old for that now.
It is cool in the mountains but hot and damp in Atlit. The overhead lights throb and buzz in the moist air, heavy as a blanket. Nothing moves. Even the sentries in the guard towers are snoring, lulled by the stillness and sapped, like their prisoners, by the cumulative weight of the heat.
There are no politics in this waning hour of the night, no regret, no delay, no waiting. All of that will return with the sun. The waiting is worse than the heat. Everyone who is locked up in Atlit waits for an answer to the same questions: When will I get out of here? When will the past be over?
There are only 170 prisoners in Atlit tonight, and fewer than seventy women in all. It is the same lopsided ratio on the chaotic roads of Poland and Germany, France and Italy; the same in the train stations and the Displaced Persons camps, in queues for water, identification cards, shoes, information. The same quotient, too, in the creaking, leaky boats that secretly ferry survivors into Palestine.
There is no mystery to this arithmetic. According to Nazi calculation, males produced more value alive than dead—if only marginally, if only temporarily. So they killed the women faster.
In Barrack C, the corrugated roof releases the last degrees of yesterday’s sun, warming the blouses and skirts that hang like ghosts from the rafters. There are burlap sacks suspended there as well, lumpy with random, rescued treasures: photograph albums, books, candlesticks, wooden bowls, broken toys, tablecloths, precious debris.
The narrow cots are lined up unevenly against the naked wood walls. The floor is littered with thin wool blankets kicked aside in the heat. A baby crib stands empty in the corner.
In Haifa, the lights are burning in the bakeries where the bread rises, and the workers pour coffee and light cigarettes. On the kibbutz among the pine trees high in the Carmel, dairymen are rubbing their eyes and pulling on their boots.
In Atlit, the women sleep. Nothing disturbs them. No one notices the soft stirring of a breeze, the blessing of the last, gentlest chapter of the day.
It would be a kindness to prolong this peace and let them rest a bit longer. But the darkness is already heavy with the gathering light. The birds have no choice but to announce the dawn. Eyes begin to open.
This reading group guide for Day After Night by Anita Diamant includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Based on a true story, Day After Night is told through the eyes of four young female Holocaust survivors interned at a British military camp in Palestine after World War II. Though haunted by terrible memories and innumerable losses, these women ultimately find salvation through the bonds of friendship and love as they confront the challenge of rebuilding their lives. The unforgettable strength and resilience of Polish Zionist Shayndel, Parisian beauty Leonie, Dutch outsider Tedi, and concentration camp survivor Zorah provide a riveting and heartbreaking look at individual human experiences of the Holocaust and its aftermath.
Questions for Discussion
Shayndel “was overcome by the weight of what she had lost: mother, father, brother, friends, neighbors, comrades, lovers, landscapes.” Reflecting on her past Leonie remembers a vision in which “her own voice, [said] yes to life, as miserable as it was.” For Zorah, remembering the worst of what happened to her and others is a sacred trust. Although loss and suffering have shaped each character, they are remarkably resilient. How might terribly memories actually keep a person going? What does the book tell us about the strength of the human spirit?
What is the significance of the book’s title? How can it be interpreted?
How do food and celebration play an important part in the novel?
How do Tirzah and Bryce’s similarities and differences influence their love for each other? There are great silences between them; how do small physical gestures communicate their thoughts and feelings?
As Zorah’s feelings for Esther and Jacob change, she reflects that “the world was an instrument of destruction” but that “the opposite of destruction is creation.” How does this idea reflect the novel as a whole? Diamant also writes (in Zorah’s voice) that “‘luck’ was just another word for ‘creation,’ which was as relentless as destruction.” What does this mean? How is this a turning point for Zorah?
All of the characters have strengths that helped them to survive the war. How do their strengths and weaknesses influence each other? How might one person’s weakness help to develop another person’s strength?
“Everyone in Atlit had secrets… Most people managed to keep their secrets under control, concealed behind a mask of optimism or piety or anger. But there were an unfortunate few without a strategy or system for managing the past…” How do secrets play a role in all of the women’s experiences at the camp? How have each of them been shaped by secrets?
Discuss the theme of identity and how it plays an important role in the characters’ lives. Consider Esther and Jacob’s story, Shayndel’s memories of her skills as a fighter in contrast to the way others at the camp view her, Leonie’s past, etc.
What does Tedi’s keen sense of smell symbolize? How does her sense of smell provide insights into the other characters?
How do the characters find common ground despite seemingly impossible circumstances? Consider the relationships between Tirzah and Bryce, Leonie and Lotte, and Zorah and Esther, among others.
“Leonie’s skin was unblemished. She had not hidden in a Polish sewer or shivered in a Russian barn. She had not seen her parents shot. Atlit was her first experience of barracks and barbwire. She had survived the war without suffering hunger or thirst. There had been wine and hashish and a pink satin coverlet to muffle her terrors.” Discuss this passage. What does it say about the nature of fear and horror? How would you compare Leonie’s experiences during the war with those of her friends? How can internal and external horror be equally destructive?
How did you feel about Lotte’s story? Did the way it ended surprise you? What do you make of the main characters’ silence about what happened?
On their last night together each of the women has a vivid dream. How would you interpret these?
What did you think of the epilogue? Was it satisfying?
How would you compare Day After Night with other World War II-era novels that you’ve read?
What are some of your favorite passages from the book? What were some of the most difficult parts to read?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Cook a meal in honor of Tirzah’s Rosh Hashanah feast. Check out traditional recipes at allrecipes.com, epicurious.com and jewishrecipes.org or peruse the Jewish cooking section at your local bookstore.
2. Learn more about Atlit and see a photo of the “Delousing Shed.” Visit
For information about Yitzhak Rabin, one of the Palmachniks who orchestrated the Atlit escape and a future Nobel Prize winner and prime minister of Israel, visit http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1994/rabin-bio.html for biographical information and links to further reading material.
3. Visit Anita Diamant’s website at www.anitadiamant.com
Anita Diamant is the bestselling author of the novels The Boston Girl, The Red Tent, Good Harbor,The Last Days of Dogtown, and Day After Night, and the collection of essays, Pitching My Tent. An award-winning journalist whose work appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine and Parenting, she is the author of six nonfiction guides to contemporary Jewish life. She lives in Massachusetts. Visit her website at AnitaDiamant.com.