How did Elie's father die in Night by Elie Wiesel?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Night by Elie Wiesel is Elie's autobiographical story of his time in several concentration camps during Hitler's reign of terror against the Jewish people during World War II.

Before they are shipped off to the camps, Elie's father is a prominent figure in the Jewish community. He is rather careless about his family and the day-to-day lives they lived, but he is a good man. 

When things got bad enough, he had several chances to take his family away and escape the tragedy, but he did not really believe things were as bad as others seemed to realize.

When they get to the camp, Elie and his father are separated from the female members of the family, so the rest of the story is about the two of them. Elie's father is quite ill-suited to hard labor and stern taskmasters, and there are times when Elie rather wishes his father would just kind of "tough up" a bit. Despite that, he is a good father who does his best to take care of his son.

The dehumanization begins early, and there comes a time when Elie does not even respond emotionally when his father is mistreated by the guards. Instead, Elie, like all of the prisoners, really only has the physical and emotional energy to worry about his own survival.

Several times throughout the story, Elie's father narrowly escapes selection--being sent to the death chambers. His physical condition slowly deteriorates, of course, due to the living conditions in which they all live. Things rapidly get worse for the older man when the prisoners are all forced to march to a new camp in the bitter cold and snow.

Elie nearly dies when he falls asleep in the snow, but his father rouses him and saves his life. When they eventually arrive at Buchenwald, however, Elie's father has no more strength and begins to deteriorate. He is constantly feverish and suffers from dysentery (chronic diarrhea), and the guards no longer want to waste any food on a man they can see is so near death. 

At times, Elie's father does not even recognize his son and seems to be already in another place, a better place. Other prisoners beat him up when Elie is not there to protect him. His father is in unbearable pain and wants something to quench the burning on his insides. Elie cannot help.

On January 29, Eli wakes up and someone else is sleeping in his father's cot. Elie recounts it this way:

They must have taken him away before daybreak and taken him to the crematorium. Perhaps he was still breathing....

No prayers were said over his tomb.No candle lit his memory. His last word had been my name.He had called out to me and I had not answered. 

It is sad to say, but Elie's father died from the same thing so many others died from--simple neglect and constant abuse. His body just could not sustain itself given the treatment he was exposed to in the camps and, like so many others, he just quite breathing.

It is, of course, possible that he was not dead when he was taken away and actually died in a fiery furnace; however, he would have died imminently in any case. The reality in either scenario is that his body just could not sustain life any longer.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial