Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
The book about Elie Wiesel's experiences during the holocaust begins when he is a young boy of twelve. He lives in Sighet, Romania, with his parents and three sisters, two older and one younger than he. A bright and studious child, Elie is curious about the Jewish religion. Wanting to learn about the Talmud and the Cabbala, he turns to Moshe the Beadle, a worker in the synagogue, for guidance and religious instruction.
The Germans, under the guidance of Hitler, seize Romania and occupy Sighet. Elie, like all of the Jews, is made to wear a yellow star to identify him as Jewish. He also watches as Jewish property is seized, and Jewish men are arrested. Moshe the Beadle is one of the first to be arrested and taken away to an unknown location. When he manages to escape and return to Sighet, Moshe tells of the cruelties that are being inflicted on the Jews. No one believes him, including Elie; they think he has gone crazy in his absence.
Soon the persecution of the Jews becomes widespread. Elie and his family are forced to move from their home into the ghetto. They are not allowed to go out after dark or interact with non-Jewish people. Soon large numbers of Jews in Sighet are arrested and deported to concentration camps. Then Elie and his family members are loaded into a cattle car and transported to Auschwitz. There Elie sees his mother and younger sister for the last time, as the males are separated from the females. There he also sees the atrocities that Moshe had tried to describe. He witnesses the senseless murders of Jewish men for no reason and little children being thrown into a pit of fire. He also constantly smells the sickening stench of burning flesh from the crematorium.
Elie has two concerns during his stay in the concentration camps. First he must fight for his own survival; in addition, he must watch out for and protect his father. Elie repeatedly shows his intelligence about saving himself. He refuses to be drawn into the struggle for bread; he does not fight with the guard he strikes and tortures his father; he stoically marches through the snow even though he has just had an operation on his foot. Elie is just as determined in protecting father. Throughout the book, he is seen caring for Mr. Wiesel in a variety of ways, sharing his soup with him and seeking medical help. Towards the end of the book, when his father is weak and sick and Elie is emotionally and physically spent from the torture, he momentarily wishes to be rid of Mr. Wiesel, for he has become a burden. Then when Wiesel is taken to the crematorium while Elie is sleeping, he feels terribly guilty and fears that his father may have been burned alive.
At the end of the book, Elie Wiesel is a devastated man. He says of himself, "The student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in the flames." He has experienced and witnessed so much torture and suffering that he even questions the existence of God and sometimes refuses to pray to Him. He feels that he has become an animal, driven only by hunger and an instinct for survival. After he is freed from the concentration camp and looks at himself in the mirror, he sees himself as a corpse; in truth, he is emotionally deadened in many ways.
Mr. Chlomo Wiesel
Before his imprisonment in the concentration camp, Mr. Chlomo Wiesel lived in Sighet with Elie, his three daughters, and his wife. Although he was a kind man, he rarely showed any emotion to his family. He was, however, a well-respected owner of a grocery store, who faithfully practiced his Jewish faith.
Mr. Wiesel makes a big mistake early in the book. When the persecution and deportation of the Jews begin, Maria, the kind family housekeeper, offers to give the Wiesels shelter and protection in her home, which was located outside of Sighet. Wiesel declines her offer, saying he is too old to change his life. Little did he know what was in store for him and his family. If he had accepted Maria's offer, perhaps they could have escaped some of the torture that they endured.
When the Wiesels are arrested and sent to Auschwitz, Mr. Wiesel is able to stay with his son; however, his wife and daughters are separated from him, and he is never to see them again. As a result, he focuses all of his attention on Elie, constantly staying with him at the various concentration camps. Once, when he is separated from Elie during a selection process, he sneaks over to his son's line, which is for the stronger males. As a result, he winds up doing heavy construction work, moving giant blocks of stone, along with Elie.
Wiesel also watches out for his son, saving him from being strangled by a stranger and helping him when his foot is infected.
Elie also protects his father. He shares his soup with him, encourages him to keep trying, saves him from being thrown off the train as a corpse, nurses him after he is tortured by the guards, finds him when he has fallen down on his way to Buchenwald, and seeks medical help for him, which is refused. Throughout the book, the relationship between father and son is warm and helpful. Only at the end of the book, after Wiesel has grown very ill and right before he dies, does Elie ever think of his father as a burden. Then when the old man is taken to the crematorium, Elie feels totally guilty, fearing that Wiesel may still have been alive.