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Inhumanity Toward Other Humans
Eliezer’s spiritual struggle owes to his shaken faith not only in God but in everything around him. After experiencing such cruelty, Eliezer can no longer make sense of his world. His disillusionment results from his painful experience with Nazi persecution, but also from the cruelty he sees fellow prisoners inflict on each other. Eliezer also becomes aware of the cruelty of which he himself is capable. Everything he experiences in the war shows him how horribly people can treat one another—a revelation that troubles him deeply.
The first insensible cruelty Eliezer experiences is that of the Nazis. Yet, when the Nazis first appear, they do not seem monstrous in any way. Eliezer recounts, “[O]ur first impressions of the Germans were most reassuring. . . . Their attitude toward their hosts was distant, but polite.” So many aspects of the Holocaust are incomprehensible, but perhaps the most difficult to understand is how human beings could so callously slaughter millions of innocent victims. Wiesel highlights this incomprehensible tragedy by pulling the Nazis into focus first as human beings, and then, as the memoir shifts to the concentration camps, showing the brutal atrocities that they committed.
Furthermore, Night demonstrates that cruelty breeds cruelty. Instead of comforting each other in times of difficulty, the prisoners respond to their circumstances by turning against one another. Near the end of the work, a Kapo says to Eliezer, “Here, every man has to fight for himself and not think of anyone else. . . . Here, there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends. Everyone lives and dies for himself alone.” It is significant that a Kapo makes this remark to the narrator, because Kapos were themselves prisoners placed in charge of other prisoners. They enjoyed a relatively better (though still horrendous) quality of life in the camp, but they aided the Nazi mission and often behaved cruelly toward prisoners in their charge. At the beginning of the fifth section, Eliezer refers to them as “functionaries of death.” The Kapos’ position symbolizes the way the Holocaust’s cruelty bred cruelty in its victims, turning people against each other, as self-preservation became the highest virtue.