Explain the purpose of Birkenau in the book Night.

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Birkenau is first referred to in section two of Elie Wiesel's memoir Night. It was the "reception center" to Auschwitz and the first destination for the Jews of Sighet. It was at Birkenau that the notorious Dr. Mengele imposed his "selection." Those Jews who were considered fit to work were spared and pointed to the left. Those who were to be liquidated went to the right and the crematories. Elie and his father are pointed to the left, in no small part because a fellow Jew tells them to lie about their ages. It is at Birkenau where Elie's faith in God is shattered as he witnesses children thrown into a pit of fire. The flames which Madame Schächter prophesied on the train had come true.

Aside from the selection, the main purpose of Birkenau was to filter the Jews through a series of stations including a shedding of clothing except for shoes and belt, a barbershop where their heads and bodies were shaved, and an area for disinfection where the Jews were doused with petrol. During this time the SS also sought out strong men to work in the crematories. Elie relates the story of one particularly well built man who was chosen for the crematory and had to put his own father into the oven. Eventually the Jews were taken to a barracks where they were given prison clothes. Elie and his father were then transferred into the main camp of Auschwitz where they waited for three weeks before going to the work camp at Buna where they spent several months.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Birkenau is a part of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and it is the place where Elie and his family get off the train. There, Elie and his father move in one direction, while his mother and sister, Tzipora, move in the other direction. Elie would never see his mother and sister again. On the way to the camp, the Jews in the train see flames rising from a chimney, and an inmate explains that they will be burned. Elie sees babies being thrown into the flames, and he begins to doubt God's existence at that moment. Birkenau is the location of the large crematoria in which inmates are immediately burned to death if they are not capable of working. Elie and his father are transferred to Auschwitz, a nearby concentration camp, to do hard labor.