The overseers, or Kapo in German, were given this special status if they
were more cruel than the S.S. officers themselves. This suited the German S.S., because it took the day-to-day control of the inmates away from them. It suited the Kapos because it prolonged their own
At the Buna camp, the Kapo appeared humane and Elie and his father went
through the usual processing – shower, new clothes, and then sorting. This time they were searched for gold fillings whilst a band of Jewish musicians played music.
Elie’s gold crown is discovered by the camp dentist, but he pretends he has a fever and avoids having it extracted.
Their Kapo called Idek is prone to fits of cruelty and Elie unfortunately is
at the wrong end of one of these outbursts. Elie manages to suffer this in silence.
They are to work in a warehouse which is run by a foreman called Franek.
Every day they march to the warehouse and Elie’s father is never able to march in time, and Franek the foreman picks on him accordingly. In order to placate Franek, Elie arranges for a friend to extract his gold filling in order to give it to him.
Elie comes into contact with a French Jewess who is posing as an
Aryan. She says to him in perfect German, “Bite your lip, little brother.
Don’t cry. Keep your anger and hatred for another day, for later on. The day will come, but not now.” Later on Elie was to meet this girl in Paris when they would spend the day together reminiscing about the Buna camp. She tells Elie that she obtained forged papers when France was occupied, and she passed herself off as an Aryan. When she was deported to Germany, she was assigned to the forced labor groups. In this was she was able to escape the concentration camp.
Elie discovers Idek in a compromising position with a Polish girl in a small
room off the warehouse. Elie’s punishment is to receive twenty-five strokes and he is forced into unconsciousness by the pain. Idek makes him keep the incident secret.
One day Buna camp is sent into turmoil as American ‘planes pass overhead and
bomb the complex. Afterwards, the prisoners are given plenty work to do clearing up the mess and removing an unexploded bomb from the yard. During the air raid, a Polish man steals, and Elie and the rest
of his fellow workers are forced to witness his hanging.
There are other similar hangings arising from the sabotage of the camp power station. A Dutchman is tortured. One of those hanged is a thirteen-year-old boy, who because of his size takes over half an hour to die. We read, “’Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him, ‘Where is he? Here he is. He is hanging here on the gallows.’”
The stark narrative continues.
There is no embellishment, no glorification. It is a realistic account of the episodes witnessed by Wiesel.
The incident with the French girl would at the time seem insignificant to
Wiesel, but as fate would have it, he would meet this girl again in Paris and such occurrences would provide Wiesel with some hope for mankind out of this desperate situation.
He is able to relate to the girl in Paris because they have a common bond. It shows Wiesel that not everything was destroyed by the camps, and her survival, like his, marks a resistance to evil and terror.
The inmates’ lives revolve around survival and obtaining food.
There is quite a vivid scene where two cauldrons of steaming hot soup have been left unattended. This had not gone unnoticed by a starving inmate, who emerged from Block 37, “crawling like a worm in the direction of the cauldrons. Hundreds of eyes followed his movements. Hundreds of men crawled with him, scraping their knees with his on the gravel. Every heart trembled, but with envy above all. This man had dared.” Those that observed this man were filled with jealousy and not admiration. Would he have the strength to reach up and get some sustenance? “Then, for no apparent reason, he let out a terrible cry, a rattle such as I had never heard before, and, his mouth open, thrust his head toward the still steaming liquid. We jumped at the explosion. Falling back onto the ground, his face stained with soup, the man writhed for a few seconds at the foot of the cauldron, and then moved no more.” We note that this man risks suicide for a ration of soup. The watchers would swap their places with this man if he were successful. He does not succeed, and becomes a poor hero.
There is a surreal element here in that Jews played in the camp orchestra
whilst all this carnage surrounded them.
The main theme in this part of the book is the fight for food and we sense
that the inmates would fight and kill one another in order to secure food for themselves. Wiesel is aware of his dehumanization and he is concerned that he will give up all vestiges of civilization for the
sake of his own survival. He is concerned that at the end he may betray his own father.
Idek clearly relishes the power he has over his fellow inmates. This
power is a corrupting force and he uses it to take advantage of a Polish girl who has to submit through fear.
However, she may obtain food rations as payment. It may also provide a brief moment of escape for Idek, some sort of return to humanity. In any event his discovery by Elie causes the beast within him to surface and Elie is a victim of a particularly vicious beating. Idek also makes Elie swear secrecy concerning this event on pain of death.