Elie Wiesel's Night is a Holocaust story that is based on Wiesel's experiences at several concentration camps in 1944-1945. In the third section of the book, fourteen-year-old Elie and his family arrive in Auschwitz after their grueling train ride. Bewildered and unaware of the imminent danger ahead of them, they have to survive an initial selection.
One prisoner tells them to lie about their ages; Elie should say he is older and his father should say he is younger. Elie and his father are initially confused about this advice, which is given in a "weary" but "warm" voice. But they catch on quickly, and a moment later Elie thinks to lie about his profession, telling Dr. Mengele that he is a farmer instead of a student. They survive the selection, apparently helped by the advice they've been given.
But first, for some unstated reason, they are taunted by another prisoner, who tells them that they have not survived the selection:
Poor devils, you are heading for the crematorium.
Why does this prisoner lie about the selection results? We don't know for sure, but it fits in with one of the themes of the book—the dehumanization of man at the hands of other men; even the veteran prisoners take part in emotionally torturing the new prisoners. But the prisoner who gave the advice exemplifies a much different theme: man has the ability to show kindness in the worst of situations.
Thanks to the kindness of one of the inmates Elie and his father survive the very first selection before they even know what the word means to their survival. The prisoner demands that Elie tell the guards that he is eighteen instead of fifteen. He then tells Elie's fifty year old father that he needs to say that he is forty. Women, children, and the elderly were the first to be killed inside the walls of the camps because they were thought to be useless. When Elie and his father approached the guard they did as they were told and survived the first selection that would have sent them straight to the crematorium to be burned just like Mrs. Schachter's vision might have predicted. Dr. Mengele, the guard was pointing prisoners either left or right with his baton and when he spoke to Elie and his father, the baton pointed to left, luckily they find that left was toward survival although they were frightened at first that it was to the crematorium.