Elie Wiesel
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Chapter 4

After the mandatory quarantine period and medical checks, Eliezer is assigned to a prisoner’s unit with a job to count electrical fittings in a warehouse. Eliezer’s father is in the same unit, and both of them are accommodated in a musician’s block. It is taken care of by a benevolent German Jew. Eliezer meets a Jewish violinist and brothers named Yosi and Tibi. Yosi and Tibi are Zionists and aspire for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Eliezer also decides to go to Palestine after the war ends. Akiba Drumer, the believer, foresees God’s deliverance very soon. After a few days in Buna, Eliezer is asked by the dentist to come and get his gold crown extracted. Eliezer feigns illness and delays the extraction. In the meantime, the dentist is hanged for illegal trading of gold crowns. Eliezer is unmoved by his death and feels content to save himself from the trouble. He is now busy finding good food for himself. Idek, the Kapo of Eliezer’s work crew, is a violent man. One day in a fit of madness, he tortures Eliezer at the warehouse. A French girl who is employed with Eliezer shows kindness and pity. The narrator then fast forwards a few years ahead to recount how Eliezer met that same girl, now a woman, at the Paris Metro. Eliezer remembers her, and she narrates her story that she was a Jew who became Aryan through forged documents. In the civilian warehouse, she was working as a laborer and not as a prisoner. The narrator shifts the scene of action to Buna, where Eliezer’s father is thrashed by Idek mercilessly. Eliezer narrates how the cruelty of the concentration camp has changed him. He is worried about his own survival. He is not angry at Idek for beating his father but upset with his father for not knowing how to avoid Idek’s wrath.

When the prison foreman, Franek, sees Eliezer’s gold crown, he also wants it. Franek’s lust for gold makes him cruel. Eliezer’s father advises him not to give his crown away. Franek laughs at it and thrashes Eliezer’s father until the poor boy yields. Idek and Franek, along with the other Polish prisoners, are sent to another camp. However, before leaving the camp, Idek is caught having sex in the barracks by Eliezer. A raging Idek beats Eliezer until he faints. In the meantime, there is an Allied air raid on Buna, and prisoners are supposed to remain inside their blocks. However, two containers of soup are left unattended. Inmates see a man putting his life in danger as he reaches for the soup. The moment he stands up to get the soup, he is shot dead. After a week, gallows are erected in the central square, and a man is hanged publicly for stealing something during an air raid. Eliezer also narrates the hanging of two prisoners for rebelling. There is a poignant tale of the hanging of a child who acts as a servant to the rebels. The inmates are unmoved by daily cruelties in the camp, but the death of a child on the gallows brings tears to their eyes. A man wonders how God can exist in a world with so much cruelty. Eliezer too is shaken and feels that for him, God has been murdered on the gallows along with the child.


The heart-rending scene of the child’s murder concludes this section. Metaphorically, it conveys the death of God. Eliezer is of the view that God does not exist. Otherwise, how can an innocent child be sent to the gallows in front of God, who is believed to do justice with all in the world? “Where is He?” Eliezer questions and then answers himself, “He is hanging here on this gallows.” Eliezer is at the lowest point of his faith after seeing the death of a child in such a cruel way. 

The child’s death is also symbolic of the death of Eliezer’s innocence. He undergoes a transformation from a child to someone else from the beginning of the Holocaust to his time in the concentration camp. Eliezer has lost his innocence, his faith, and now he is on his way to losing his Jewish morals and values. Since survival is extremely difficult in such circumstances, it has become the only aim of his life. He knows that he is living to feed himself. When his father is beaten, he does not feel any sense of pity. Rather he is angry with his father for not knowing how to adapt to the situation. Eliezer and his father share a crucial relationship with each other as they provide support to each other to survive in the face of atrocities.

It is important for Eliezer to remain connected with his father unconditionally. Still, the bond between the two is weakening due to the enormous cruelty of Nazis. When Eliezer hears the story of a 13-year-old child beating his father for not making his bed properly, he can relate it to himself and internalizes it as a warning sign. Eliezer is badly scared that he too will be bereft of kindness and abdicate his familial responsibilities. He fears that he might turn against his father in his bid to survive.

Eliezer’s narration of an episode with a French girl who shows kindness to him when he is thrashed by Idek is remarkable because it is one of the very few instances when the narrator has leapfrogged into the future to tell the events after the harrowing time spent in the concentration camp. This accidental meeting on the Metro may be a literary device used by the novelist, but for non-fiction, it is rare because it normally does not happen in real life. Night has several such instances; one among them is Eliezer’s chance meeting with Juliek again, but these instances do not take away the impact of story, which is based on real-life happenings. For Wiesel, surviving the Holocaust is in itself is a great occurrence, certainly due to good fortune as most of the prisoners in Auschwitz perished. Here Wiesel wishes to convey that if he is alive, then there can be no bigger coincidence than this in real life. It would be grossly inaccurate if he does not credit luck and coincidence for his survival. Also, it would be gravely unjust to the memories of those who perished in the face of the Nazis’ atrocities.

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