Night is the story of author Elie Wiesel's time in the work and death camps of the Holocaust. This particular chapter takes place late in the book, as the men and boys are being transferred by train to their next camp, Buchenwald. On their first train journey they had been crammed eighty to a car; this time one hundred of them fit in each car. They were emaciated, freezing, and hungry as they traveled in these open cattle cars for ten days. Along the way, corpses--as many as twenty at a time--were carelessly removed from the cars.
At this particular stop, some workers thought it would be great fun to throw crusts of bread into the cars to hear the mad scramble (the life and death scramble, it turns out) for the small piece of bread. One of those crusts of bread was thrown into Elie's train car, and the madness began.
An old man, Elie noticed, was able to grasp the crust and had put it to his mouth.
His eyes gleamed; a smile, like a grimace, lit up his dead face. And was immediately extinguished. A shadow had just loomed up near him. The shadow threw itself upon him. Felled to the ground, stunned with blows, the old man cried: "Meier. Meir, my boy! Don't you recognize me? I'm your father...you're hurting me...you're killing your father!"
The old man lied and said he had some bread for son, and then he collapsed. Meir searched his dead father for the bread, "took the bread and began to devour it." Two men had seen the exchange and suddenly threw themselves upon the son. Soon there were two corpses, side by side. Father and son.
This story is a picture of the dehumanizing effects of this horrific ordeal. These men, none of them, were like this when they arrived at the camps for the first time. They were now reduced to animals, herded into cattle cars, killing for a crust of bread.