In Chapter 3 of Night, what is Elie's first impression of Auschwitz after leaving Birkenau?

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Auschwitz is of course a terrible place. Clearly, the reputation of the camp is meant to proceed it: first, there is the horrible “selection” and a march past the crematories, where Elie sees the bodies of children being burned; later, his group of prisoners is harangued by an SS man who says “You are in Auschwitz. And Auschwitz is not a convalescent home. It is a concentration camp. Here, you must work. If you don't you will go straight to the chimney.” However, after the first night, life in Auschwitz did not seem so bad. Wiesel writes, “We remained in Auschwitz for three weeks. We had nothing to do. We slept a lot. In the afternoon and at night. Our one goal was to avoid the transports, to stay here as long as possible. It wasn't difficult; it was enough never to sign up as a skilled worker. The unskilled were kept until the end.” While the boredom of those three weeks stands in contrast the the horrors of being processed into the camp, maybe the worst part about Wiesel’s time at the camp was deliberate lack of knowledge about why they were there or what might happen to them. As with the selection process, where the meaning of being told to go “left” or “right” is unclear, Elie’s time sleeping in the afternoons at Auschwitz is fraught with unknowns. It seems to be easy to avoid work transports, but whether this is really a good thing or not is anyone’s guess.

This lack of knowledge shows up in a different way when Elie meets his relative Stein. Stein wants to know if Elie has any information about his wife, and even though Elie knows nothing he makes something up on the spot and tells him she is safe. Elie, though uncertain about his own fate, is able to provide a measure of comfort to Stein by providing a false sense of certainty about the fate of his wife. Hope, even if it is based on a lie, is all any of them really have.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ironically enough, Elie has a good impression of Auschwitz when he first arrives.  He believes that it is better than Birkenau and that it is like a "rest home." Readers must remember Elie's horrific experiences in Birkenau for his description of Auschwitz to make sense--he is separated from his mother and sisters, and he witnesses the burning of live infants (the event that consumes his faith).  Thus, Auschwitz's initial impression is better for Wiesel.