The men and women are separated.
Elie will never see his mother or sister Tzipora again.
One of the locals tells Elie and his father to lie about their age.
Elie should claim to be eighteen instead of fourteen, and Shlomo should claim to be forty instead of fifty years old. They suddenly realize that Auschwitz is a death camp, and once they are used up they will
be consigned to the furnaces.
Dr. Mengele surveys the men to assess their fitness.
Those that are unfit will be sent to the crematory from which foul smoke and flame belches. Nearby, a truck delivers a load of babies that are tossed into a fiery pit. The horrors that meet Elie’s eyes bring within him an urge to commit suicide by throwing himself on the electrified fence, but before he can carry out this act of defiance, he is moved on.
Some of the younger men consider fighting against the guards, but others
calm them, urging them to seek God’s help. Elie realizes that no-one will come to their aid and he starts to have real doubts about the power of his God.
They are forced to strip in one of the barracks and they are shaved by
barbers. They then sift through badly fitting prison clothes looking for suitable apparel.
The fittest workers will be consigned to work in the crematoriums, as this
work is arduous. Elie and his father are taken to another barracks and the trustee there collects any serviceable shoes from them. Elie manages to hide his shoes, which are almost new, from the trustee.
Elie and Shlomo are moved again and arrive at Block 17 in Auschwitz
camp. After they have showered, they are at last able to sleep. In this barracks they are under the jurisdiction of a Polish prisoner and he is the first humane person they have met since their arrival.
Next day, Elie is tattooed with the number A7713 and they soon fall into the pattern of work, food, roll call and bed.
They meet a distant relative, Stein of Antwerp, who was deported some two
years ago, and he is deeply concerned about his wife and sons who were left behind.
After three weeks, their Polish overseer is replaced by a very savage man
who takes delight in beating the prisoners for no reason. There are one hundred workers in Elie’s block and they learn that they are to be marched to a new camp, Buna.
The reader is struck by Elie’s stark description of life in the
concentration camp. It is a matter of fact analysis of what happened to Elie and his father, and Wiesel provides just sufficient in order for the reader to fully appreciate the scene without having actually
been there. As an observer, we note the dramatic change in Elie, although we must remember that he is only fourteen, and as we know, children of this age are very adaptable.
We note that Elie’s faith is fast disappearing and he feels anger and
frustration with his apparent silent God. We note that he stands by whilst his father is beaten to the ground by one of the trustees, and although later he will still care for his father on a personal basis;
his quest for his own survival is stronger. He cannot intervene on his father’s behalf because this would threaten his own existence.
We know that Elie judges himself harshly, for he questions himself by
saying, “Had I changed so much, then? So quickly?”
Elie has had everything stripped away from him. Apart from his father,
he has lost all his family. His faith has been stripped from him. His clothes have been stripped from him. He is left naked, depressed and dehumanized. The only way he can be defiant is by surviving.
Elie’s dehumanization is not total as yet.
When he meets his relation, Stein of Antwerp, he provides him with a ray of hope by stating that his mother had received regular letters from Stein’s wife, and that they still live safely in Antwerp. As well as retaining some compassion, Elie has shown a sense of maturity which he will need if he is going to survive the tests ahead.
One of the incidents that most affected Elie’s faith was the scene with the
burning of the children.
We read, “Not far from us, flames were leaping up from a ditch, gigantic flames. They were burning something. A lorry drew up at the pit and delivered its load – little children. Babies! Yes, I saw it – saw it with my own eyes '' those children in the flames. A little farther on was another and larger ditch for adults. I pinched my face. Was I still alive? Was I awake? I could not believe it. How could it be possible for them to burn people, children, and for the world to keep silent?” Elie yearns to wake up from this nightmare. The impact on him cannot be imagined, suffice to say it was sufficient motivation to want to throw himself on the electrified fencing. This fencing bore the sign of a skull symbolizing death.