Section five of Night, by Elie Wiesel, begins on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, though there is certainly nothing to celebrate for Elie and his fellow prisoners. As the new year begins, something awful happens at the camp: selection.
Selection is the awful process of weeding the unhealthy (and therefore unnecessary) prisoners from the healthy (and therefore useful) prisoners. Everyone is nervous, but the veterans enjoy teasing Elie and the others about the horrors ahead of them. The SS takes roll call quickly and then feeds the prisoners their soup more quickly than usual.
At about nine o'clock that evening, their block commander arrives to tell everyone what is about to happen; he tempers his remarks with the most compassion he can offer them:
"In a few moments, selection will take place. You will have to undress completely. Then you will go, one by one, before the SS doctors. I hope you will all pass. But you must try to increase your chances. Before you go into the next room, try to move your limbs, give yourself some color. Don't walk slowly, run! Run as if you had the devil at your heels! Don't look at the SS. Run, straight in front of you! " He paused and then added: "And most important, don't be afraid!"
That was a piece of advice we would have loved to be able to follow.
Elie says it feels as if they are preparing for the Last Judgment as they stand naked in rows next to their bunks. The infamous Dr. Mengele arrives with a list of the prisoners' numbers and nods, ready to begin the selection.
The first men to parade by Mengele are the foremen and others who have not been as deprived as the prisoners, and the doctor only writes down one or two numbers. Then the other prisoners walk past, and Elie just wants to get past without having his number written down or his left arm seen; if Mengele cannot see his number, Elie knows he cannot be selected.
My head was spinning: you are too skinny...you are too weak...you are too skinny, you are good for the ovens.... The race seemed endless; I felt as though I had been running for years . You are too skinny, you are too weak.... At last I arrived. Exhausted.
Elie makes it past and his number is not written down; neither was his father's. Some of the others cannot say the same.