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The situational irony in the passage in Elie Wiesel’s memoir of life in The Auschwitz concentration camp, Night, lies in the depravity inherent in the author’s situation at the moment. Having been transported with his family to the most notorious of all the many German death camps, Elie and his father were immediately separated from the females in the family, and would never see them again. Their introduction to Auschwitz was fast and brutal, with fellow inmates hostile to the newcomers because of the latter’s failure to escape this plight. The German soldiers and camp administrators wasted no time depriving the newly-arrived prisoners of every last shred of their dignity, sending some to the crematoria for immediate execution and processing others for forced labor units. Everything they had, except for those with old, worn-out shoes, was taken from them. Elie, however, was wearing a new pair of shoes from before his family’s deportation from their native Hungary. New shoes were being seized by the Germans and by the Jewish inmates selected to work as collaborators. In the following passage from Night, Elie expresses his good fortune in the fact that his new shoes, which would otherwise be taken from him, were so dirty that they appeared old:
“. . .we had to get up whenever a Kapo came in to check if, by chance, somebody had a new pair of shoes. If so, we had to hand them over. No use protesting; the blows multiplied and, in the end, one still had to hand them over. I had new shoes myself. But as they were covered with a thick coat of mud, they had not been noticed. I thanked God, in an improvised prayer, for having created mud in His infinite and wondrous universe.”
Elie is thankful that his shoes were so covered in mud that they looked old and were, consequently, spared. The situational irony exists in that joy the young boy felt in having muddy shoes.
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