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Night | Section 3 | Summary

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Summary

As Eliezer and the others exit the cattle car, they receive instructions: "Men to the left! Women to the right." This is the last time Eliezer will ever see his mother and little sister. Eliezer and his father walk on together as the SS men (members of the paramilitary Schutzstaffel group) bark out orders. A fellow inmate tells Eliezer he should say he is 18 (not 15) years old and his father should say he is 40 (not 50). Another inmate approaches them and says, "You should have hanged yourselves rather than come here." The inmate is in shock when the Jews say they did not know about Auschwitz. He points out and explains the crematorium.

Some of the younger men want to revolt, while Eliezer considers running into the electric fence. The fathers talk them out of these options. Then, Eliezer and his father go before Dr. Mengele, the Nazi physician who determines who is fit to work and who should be killed right away. Eliezer and his father are deemed fit for work, though for a moment they think they are being sent to the crematorium. Eliezer is in shock as he sees babies tossed into flaming pits; there is another pit for adults. He is angry at God and says what he sees that night will stay with him forever.

The men are led into barracks where they are forced to undress and then sent to the barber to get their hair buzzed. Afterward, they look for acquaintances—happy to find someone alive. The men are given uniforms, and Eliezer notes his father looks different. He can't get over how much has happened in one day. The men are taken into another barracks. Eliezer is so exhausted he is falling asleep while standing up. However, they need to keep upright when a kapo, or head prisoner, stands up. Ultimately, an SS officer comes in and tells them about Auschwitz. He says if they don't work, they will be sent to the crematorium. When the kapos come back and start talking, Eliezer's father has a colic attack and asks to use the bathroom. Instead, he is slapped so hard that he falls, and Eliezer is so frightened he does not move. He thinks to himself, "Had I changed that much? So fast?" His father assures Eliezer he is fine and that there is no reason to worry, and the men are marched off to another camp within Auschwitz.

While there, the men have numbers tattooed on their arms. A distant relative, Stein, finds Eliezer and his father and asks if they have news of his family. The relative, Stein, has been in the camps for two years. The only thing that keeps him going are thoughts of his wife and two children. When Eliezer tells him they are fine, Stein is overjoyed. He returns often, bringing a half a piece of bread and encouraging them to eat in order to avoid selection. After a transport arrives from the relative's hometown and his family is not on it, they never see him again. Some men talk about God and say they are being tested. During these conversations, Eliezer and his father occasionally talk about the rest of the family. Each one tries to believe for the other that the others are okay. After several weeks Elie, his father, and other men are marched for four hours to Buna, a work camp.

Analysis

Eliezer and the Jews are overwhelmed upon entering Auschwitz. The horror and brutality Eliezer witnesses is so shocking he cannot believe what is happening. Once the idea of revolt is suppressed, the only goal for him and his father is survival. When they are deemed worthy of work, they do as they are told.

For Eliezer, the sights he sees have doused his spirit and given him a prisoner's mentality. The boy who is desperate to study religious texts and could not imagine a life without prayer no longer exists. When others turn to prayer, Eliezer is angry and uninterested. He says, "The student of Talmud, the child I was, had been consumed by the flames." The man in charge of Eliezer's block instructs the new inmates, "keep your faith ... a thousand times faith," yet Eliezer is already struggling to keep his faith.

The men are taken from the train at night and kept awake for hours. The lack of sleep adds to a sense of displacement in this section of text. Eliezer says, "We were incapable of thinking. Our senses were numbed." They also lose a sense of self as they are put into uniforms, their hair is buzzed off, and they are tattooed. Eliezer notes his father looks changed and says of himself, the only thing left that resembled his old self was his shape. Eliezer is no longer Eliezer; he is a number.

Eliezer's lie to his distant relative is the kindest thing he can do. Eliezer gives him hope, inspiration, and a reason to live.

Wiesel repeats the phrase "Never shall I forget" in this section. The adult writer seems separate from the teenage boy going through these experiences; the book is written more than a decade later. Yet his insistence on remembering is more than an inability to forget. One of the purposes Wiesel had for writing the book was to ensure that the world would never forget what he and millions of others endured.

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