They travel in the train for what seems an age, then it halts and several
hundred corpses are removed and left in a nearby field.
Elie begins to despair of surviving this latest ordeal of traveling on the
train of death. They have no food or water and live on snow. Eventually, after around ten days of travel, they reach their destination.
Nearby, German workmen play a sick game of tossing morsels of bread to the
starving men and watching the corresponding stampede. This is a deadly activity and many are killed in the fight for crusts of bread.
There is a general madness about some of the inmates, and a total stranger attacks Elie and attempts to strangle him. Perhaps he thinks Elie has some food hidden. Ellie’s father and another inmate called Meir Katz managed to fight off the mad stranger. There is a growing feeling of rebellion amongst some of the inmates, not because they wish to overcome their guards, but hope their dissent will lead to a quick death through a bullet.
In Elie’s boxcar, out of the one hundred original prisoners, only twelve
We read, “We were given no food.
We lived on snow; it took the place of bread. The days were like nights, and the nights left the dregs of their darkness in our souls. The train was traveling slowly, often stopping for several hours and then setting off again. It never ceased snowing. All through these days and nights we stayed crouching, one on top of the other, never speaking a word. We were no more than frozen bodies. Our eyes closed, we waited merely for the next stop, so that we could unload our dead.”
This scene provides us with a taste of the ghoulish atmosphere which is
evident throughout this section of the book.
Wiesel does not write with any particular artistry, he merely documents his
eyewitness account and the scenes he describes require no embellishment.
We feel the stark coldness of the boxcar and we know that it is an honest representation of what took place. We note that the Jews are regarded as a subhuman species, subject of a sick game at the hands of the German workers who observe the chaos resulting from taunting of them. They throw food at the starving men, not out of humanity, but because they wish to view the stampede of death. Perhaps the workers have been indoctrinated by Hitler’s regime to show contempt and indifference towards the suffering Jews.
The segment has three main themes – violence, hunger and apathy.
We view the violence of the guards over the inmates.
We feel the hunger experienced by Elie and his fellow inmates living only on
However, the main element of this segment of the book is apathy.
Many of the inmates are resigned to their fate. They care not for their fellow sufferers who just seek release from their torment.
We are also aware of the apathy of the German workers who represent the
German civilian population in general. It was their apathy that allowed Hitler’s Third Reich to grow in their country and its evil to spread.
Wiesel also bears witness to the dehumanization of the Jews showing that the
basic will to survive will reduce a man to a beast as he bites, claws and grabs at the morsels of food thrown by the German workers. Son will beat father for a piece of bread.
This section ends with their arrival at Buchenwald, one of the oldest
concentration camps, and Wiesel’s final challenge. Will he and his father have enough strength to hold on and hope for liberation?