It is September 1944, which marks the beginning of the new Jewish
year. Collectively, there doesn’t seem to be a great deterioration of faith amongst the camp inmates, for around ten thousand gathers to pray together. Elie accuses God of forsaking them.
During this time there is a Jewish day of atonement called Yom Kippur when the Jews fast and pray. Elie and his father decide not to fast - Shlomo for reasons of practicality, but Elie views it more as a defiance of God.
Another selection process begins in the camp in order to determine those
that are to be exterminated and those that are fit to work.
Elie is transferred to a building unit where he has to drag heavy blocks of stone. He fears for his father who is beginning to deteriorate under the harsh conditions. When it comes to the selection process, the inmates have to run past Dr. Mengele to demonstrate their vitality. A few days later, those that had a question mark over them are called again for a second examination. Elie’s father is one of them. Shlomo feels that his escape from death is now finished and he bequeaths his few possessions to his son. However, he returns and reclaims his belongings.
As winter approaches, they are provided with warmer clothing so that they
might work more efficiently in the dropping temperatures. Elie gets an infection in his foot and he goes to the hospital to receive some treatment.
The poison in his foot is drained, but he is warned to leave the hospital before a review is done of the sick patients who are to be selected for death. The Jewish surgeon who performed the operation on Elie tells him that he should recover in a couple of weeks.
The guns of the approaching Red Army can be clearly heard and this makes the
S.S. guards nervous.
They start to evacuate the camp and Elie and his father join this evacuation. They were to later learn that the prisoners who remained in the hospital were freed by the Russian troops. Had Elie stayed, he would have been liberated at this time.
Elie was instructed to seek out his God through questioning.
This advice was given to him by Moshe the Beadle. Now Elie questions whether his God is all-powerful. We read, “’What are You, my God!’ I thought angrily. ‘Compared to this afflicted crowd, proclaiming to You their faith, their anger, and their revolt? What does Your greatness mean, Lord of the Universe, in the face of all this weakness, this decomposition, this decay? Why do You still trouble their sick minds, their crippled bodies?’”
This is a bitter criticism of God.
Elie accuses God of allowing the crematoriums to devour his faithful followers. Elie knows that he is thinking blasphemy, but he has lost all respect for his God. Elie is unable to comprehend the continuing evil which seems to increase without check. You will note that Moshe advised Elie that not all the questions asked would be answered in a clear way, and that some of the answers lie within the individual’s soul.
Man’s lack of understanding means that the full picture cannot be interpreted.
It is one thing to have knowledge of this timeless question of why God
allows his people to suffer, but to actually experience this unsurpassed torment puts this question in a totally different light.
In this Section there is also another vague prophesy which Elie does not
The approaching Russian Army offers release from this torment through liberation. The Jewish surgeon predicts that Elie will recover in a few weeks so it is unlikely that he would be selected for extermination. Should Elie remain and arrange for his father to pose as a patient or a nurse in the infirmary in the hope of freedom when the Russians arrive, or should he go on the march of evacuation with so many others. In a way it is a test of faith. Elie cannot put his trust in God to save him. He is driven by his instinct to survive. He has more faith in Hitler’s goal to annihilate all the Jews under his power, so with hindsight, he makes the wrong choice. This scene is set against the backdrop of the harsh, unforgiving winter, which numbs the body and senses.