ELIEZER “ELIE” WIESEL
Elie is a teenager aged fourteen when this narration commences. In his
hometown of Sighet, he was an able scholar of his faith encouraged by his guide and mentor Moshe the Beadle.
He was to experience great trauma at the hands of the Third Reich at a time when he was at his most sensitive and vulnerable. At the start of the story, Elie is but a schoolboy on the threshold of adulthood and very much dependent on his parents. His whole family are removed by force from this tranquil setting and exposed to the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
He is taught by Moshe that obtaining enlightenment is a process of asking
questions of God. At the end of his experiences, Elie only has one question – Why?
The testimony that he provides of his experiences shows that his fight for survival was also a test of faith. At the end of the book, the teenage boy who left Sighet has been totally transformed into a living corpse.
A well-respected grocer and religious leader in the village of Sighet in the
Carpathian Mountains of Hungary, Elie’s father is his companion throughout Elie’s sojourn at the hands of Hitler’s henchmen.
Unlike his son, Shlomo’s faith is limited to observing all the Jewish rituals and upholding the law. Although his son’s faith is sorely tested, Shlomo keeps his faith throughout his ordeal.
Elie’s lasting thought of his mother was her stroking his young sister
Tzipora’s hair in a comforting manner when the family was split at Auschwitz. As is the Jewish tradition, her influence over her son was less than that of her husband.
She is Elie’s seven-year-old sister who wears a red coat during the march to
the cattle cars.
She stoically struggles on this voyage without complaint under the heavy load she carries. One is reminded of the poignant scenes in Spielberg’s film ‘Schindler’s List’ concerning the young girl in the read coat.
MOSHE the BEADLE
Moshe recognizes the potential in Elie more than his own parents. He
takes it upon himself to be a mentor to Elie by giving him extra instruction in Jewish mysticism.
He is the synagogue’s handyman and is an awkward fellow who is very pious and thoughtful. However, he strikes up an immediate friendship with Elie.
At the end of 1942, he is captured by the Gestapo and miraculously escapes a
mass firing squad and returns to his village. Unfortunately, his fellow Jews do not take his ominous prophesy seriously and put his story down to a mental disorder.
STEIN of ANTWERP
Stein is a relation of the Wiesel family who Elie meets in Auschwitz.
He has been separated from his family for a number of years and is concerned about their welfare. Elie lies to Stein in order to comfort him concerning his family.
She shares the same boxcar as Elie on their journey to Auschwitz. Her
husband and two sons were carried away on an earlier convoy so she is already anxious concerning this.
As they approach Auschwitz her hysteria mounts and her ranting prophecy of fire and death, unheeded by her fellow travelers. Her visions soon become reality when the train arrives at Auschwitz.
He is a Polish musician and member of the Buna orchestra. He provides
crucial information concerning one of the mad Kapos, Idek, in the Gleiwitz barracks. He provides a final poignant performance of a Beethoven concerto and next morning he is found dead beside his trampled violin.
He also plays in the Buna orchestra and holds a trusted position as foreman
of the Electrical Warehouse. At first he appears friendly towards Elie by allowing him to work beside his father, but then Elie is forced to give up his gold filling in order to curtail Franek’s cruelty
THE FRENCH JEWESS
She works in the Electrical Warehouse disguised as an Aryan using forged
papers and speaking only in French.
She provides comfort for Elie after he has received a harsh beating. During this scene with Elie she comforts him in words of German. Elie was to meet her some years later in Paris after the liberation, and they spent time together reminiscing about the terrible days in Auschwitz.
RABBI ELIAHOU and SON
An elderly Polish religious leader, he provides great comfort by ministering
to those around him in the camps.
As he begins to succumb to the conditions, his son deserts him not wishing to jeopardize his own chances of survival. His treatment of his father horrifies Elie, who hopes that his own dehumanization will not reduce him to behaving in a like manner.
DR. JOSEF MENGELE
A cruel S.S. officer, he struts around with his baton and monocle and
conducts a systematic selection process deciding those that are to live and those that are to face extermination.
This sometimes involves the inmates running round in front of him while he looks for signs of weakness. He is like a predatory evil creature, seeking out those in the herd that are weak and have no further use.
He is the mad Kapo of the Buna Warehouse and experiences uncontrollable fits
A brave Kapo who refuses to allow himself to be turned to evil, he
stockpiles arms and blows up the power station at Buna and is accused of sabotage. He is tortured by the S.S., but refuses to name his co-conspirators.