In Chapter 4 of Night, what makes Elie and the other prisoners cry over one particular hanging?

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The prisoners are used to seeing men hanged, but this time they are appalled to watch a young boy as the victim. Adding to the horror, the boy is too light to die instantly, and so he suffers a slow, agonizing death.


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Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the fourth chapter of his memoir of life in the German concentration camps, Night, by Elie Wiesel describes a heartbreaking scene in which a beautiful young boy, a “pipel,” is hanged along with two men for the crime of sabotage. The Gestapo, the Nazi’s secret police organization, accused these three individuals, including the boy, of sabotaging an electrical plant that provided power to the prison camp in which they were being held. Their death sentence was carried out in front of the assembled inmates.

Earlier in the chapter, Wiesel had emphasized the degree to which he and the other prisoners had grown hardened to the sight of hangings, every prisoner having been forced to endure repeated beatings and humiliations. The hanging of the young pipel, however, affects these prisoners very deeply. Ordinarily, the Kapos, Jewish prisoners who were forced – and sometimes cajoled -- by their German captors to serve as disciplinarians and supervisors of the other prisoners, were notoriously cruel. In this case, though, the Kapo in question was known for his kindness, and his young assistant, the pipel, was similarly different from others in his position. This one, as Wiesel described him, “had a delicate and beautiful face – an incredible sight in this camp.” Besides his physical beauty, the boy was, in the manner of his “boss,” kind and sensitive. When the kapo and the boy were arrested and tortured, neither broke under the pressure and implicated any other prisoner. When the time came to hang the alleged conspirators, however, the sight of this young boy among those to be executed caused a very different reaction on the part of these otherwise-emotionally-hardened inmates. Even the German SS officers carrying out the execution sensed something different, as described by Wiesel: “The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child.”

The hanging of this very special child, in marked contrast to all the other hangings the prisoners observed, marked a new level of brutality even for the Nazis. For the first time, Wiesel notes, the other prisoners wept at the sight of the boy’s hanging – an execution all-the-more cruel for the fact that the...

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aiki12 | Student

The prisoners in Night, including Wiesel himself, are so accustomed to the brutality and constant suffering in the camp that they never cry during executions. However, when a young boy who was beloved by the other prisoners is hanged for rebellion, the prisoners break down in tears. The boy's weight isn't substantial enough to cause immediate death from hanging. Instead, he suffers a slow and horrible death that takes half an hour as he suffocates on the gallows.

Previously, Wiesel wondered how a just God can exist and finds he cannot pray. After witnessing the boy's hanging, his belief in God ceases altogether.