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The objective of the medical examination was purportedly to determine which of the prisoners was fit to work. The objective of the dental examination was to determine which of the prisoners had gold teeth. If a prisoner had a gold filling or crown, his name was added to a list, and in a few days he was summoned to see the dentist again, so that the gold could be removed. Gold was a metal which had great value; the gold extracted from the prisoners' mouths was taken for the benefit of the Nazis.
When Elie arrived at Buna, he and his fellow prisoners had to undergo "medical inspection". The prisoners were sent in the early morning to be examined by three doctors seated on a bench in the open air. The medical part of the examination, at least in Elie's case, was cursory; the first of the doctors "was content merely to ask, 'Are you in good health?'" No one would have dared say anything other than the affirmative.
The dentist, however, was much more thorough in examining the prisoners. Unlike the doctor, who had barely looked at them, the dentist ordered the prisoners to "open (their) mouths wide". His objective was not to find teeth that needed repair; the dentist himself had teeth that were clearly badly rotted and untended. The dentist "was not looking for decayed teeth, but gold ones" (Chapter 4).
Elie Wiesel's Night tells the story of a young teen subjected to the horrors of concentration camp life in the last year of World War II. In the book's fourth section Wiesel briefly describes a medical inspection that the new prisoners take part in. The inspection itself is uneventful, but it does set the stage for several important events a little later in the book.
As part of the inspection, the dentist takes note of Elie's gold crown. Later, Elie is summoned to the dentist to have the crown removed. At first he begs off with the excuse of not feeling well. The dentist shows a little kindness when he lets Elie wait a while. In the meantime, the dentist is hanged for trafficking gold crowns for his own benefit. Elie shows how he has changed for the worse by telling the reader that he was “pleased” with this development, because it allowed him to keep his gold crown, at least for the time being.
Shortly afterwards, another prisoner, Franek, wants Elie's crown. Elie refuses to give it up, so Franek begins to threaten Elie and his father. Eventually Elie has to give it to him to save his father.
By including the short medical inspection scene, Wiesel is able to use the gold tooth to develop his theme of man's inhumanity to man.
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