in book night
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The relationship that Eliezer held with his father during their pains and hardships at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Buna is one of many father-son bonds mentioned in Night. Their feelings toward each other, however, are one of a kind amid the other relationships described. It is amazing to see how Eliezer kept such strong feelings of love and reliance towards his father during the Holocaust while others abandoned, killed, or mistreated their own. Elie mentions, on three separate occasions, tales of sons horribly mistreating their fathers.
The first is the young pipel at Buna. Pipel were often enlisted to serve under the Oberkapo, or unit leaders, at concentration camps. He says of this particular boy, “I saw one of thirteen beating his father because the latter had not made his bed properly. The old man was crying softly while the boy shouted, “If you don’t stop crying I shan’t bring you any more bread. Do you understand?” Such cruelty was common in the camps however; it was often the only means of surviving amidst the SS and other Nazis.
The second experience by Eliezer was on the death march from Buna to Gleiwitz. A Polish rabbi named Eliahou and his son had been separated during the march. It wasn’t until the rabbi questioned him as to his son’s whereabouts that Eliezer remembered. The son, noticing his fathers slowing pace amidst the crowd, had run ahead of his father, leaving him for dead. Eliezer’s sense of attachment and love to his own father was still strong, however, as he said, “and in spite of myself, a prayer rose in my heart, to the God in whom I no longer believed. My God, Lord of the Universe, give me the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done.”
The last encounter that Eliezer has with this kind of brutality is on the train to Buchenwald. A fight breaks out on the train among the prisoners, as onlookers and German citizens find amusement at throwing pieces of bread onto the train for the Jews to fight over. Eliezer sees an older man crawl out of the fighting, clutching a piece of bread. As he makes his way, crawling, to the rear of the train, his son jumps on top of him, bludgeoning his father to death in order to take the bread. Eliezer then comments, “His son searched him, took the bread, and then began to devour it. He was not able to get very far. Two men had seen and hurled themselves upon him. Others joined in. When they withdrew, there lay before me two corpses, side by side, the father and the son. I was fifteen years old.”
As Eliezer witnessed this kind of cruelty and savagery from son to father, he began to lose even more hope in the existence of a rational, compassionate, and loving God. How could God allow such atrocities to occur? How could family bonds be broken so easily, when their faith in God was supposedly so strong?