Immediately prior to this scene, Elie and the other prisoners hear air-raid sirens, which sends the SS officers running for shelter. They all believe that the lines of war are inching closer to them at the camp, but Elie recognizes that he is no longer afraid of a death in the name of liberation. Instead, every explosion the prisoners hear fills them with "joy" and gives them "new confidence in life." The SS officers do not share these same sentiments, so the approaching war has them in a state of tense anxiety.
Around this time, a boy is brought out to be hung; Elie notes that he has already been imprisoned for three years and is still strong. Thus, his acts of insubordination are a further threat to the SS workers.
As they prepare for his hanging, Juliek whispers to Elie, "Do you think this ceremony’ll be over soon? I’m hungry."
This is indicative of a loss of empathy among the prisoners, replaced by their own priority of survival. Juliek sees the next piece of bread as a greater...
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