List examples of father/son relationships in the story (as a theme and idea)
In his memoir Night (1958, 1960) Elie Wiesel narrates his experience in the network of Auschwitz concentration camps. Wiesel details father-son relationships to show how natural, loving bonds deteriorate when individuals are faced with intolerable situations. For instance, Wiesel narrates an anecdote where a prisoner murders his father for a taste of bread, thus demonstrating the breakdown of humanity in the face of cruelty (101-102). Wiesel, who fears he will resort to this type of violence, clings to his father in an effort to maintain humanity. Wiesel and his father, Chlomo, endured the Auschwitz camps from late May, 1944 until mid-January, 1945. Ultimately, Wiesel’s father, suffering from dysentery, died before the camp was liberated on April 11, 1945.
The first primary example of father-son relationships occurs early in the novel, during the first days at Auschwitz. Wiesel’s father, seized with colic, asks for the restroom. The guard strikes the old man and Wiesel does not prevent the violence: “I did not move. What had happened to me? My father had just been struck, before my very eyes, and I had not flickered an eyelid. I had looked on and said nothing” (39).
Later, Idek, a Kapo prone to violence, lashes out on Wiesel’s father and beats him with an iron bar: “I had watched the whole scene without moving. I kept quiet. In fact I was thinking of how to get farther away so that I would not be hit myself...That is what concentration camp life had made of me” (54).
In another moving scene, Rabbi Eliahou searches for his son, who left his father behind during the Death March. Wiesel recalls: “A terrible through loomed up in my mind: he had wanted to get rid of his father! He had felt that his father was growing weak, he had believed that the end was near and had sought this separation in order to get rid of the burden…My God, Lord of the Universe, give me strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahou’s son has done” (90-91).
Finally, in one of the most moving scenes of the memoir, Wiesel narrates the death of his father. Wiesel recounts his father’s last moments: “Then my father made a ratline noise and it was my name: ‘Eliezer…’ I did not move…His last word was my name. a summons, to which I did not respond…I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched it, I might perhaps have found something like – free at last” (111-112).
In the original Yiddish version, Eliezer gives a more personalized account of his father’s death. In his account, it is clear that the relationship between father and son has evolved. In his last moments, Eliezer’s father tries to call his son, but Eliezer refuses to respond to his father’s calls. Eliezer states that he was afraid of the blows from the SS. However, his refusal to go to his father’s side attracts the wrath of the SS toward his father. The soldier descends on Eliezer’s father with blows to the head, and Eliezer froze in fear, hoping that his father would stop calling him.
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, some of the older sons attempt to put up some resistance, but their fathers ask them to stand down. The respect the boys have for their fathers forces them to obey their parents’ request and stop the idea of a revolt.
The story of Bela Katz remains one of the saddest stories in the book. Bela Katz had been selected to join the Sonderkommando because of his strength. His first assignment was to place his father’s body in the fire. One can only imagine the grief, and, despite the pain, resistance was futile. Thus, Bela Katz is left with no choice but to do as requested in order to survive.
Eliezer witnessed a pipel aged thirteen beat up his father because he had not made his bed properly. The event shows the changing relationships between fathers and sons in the concentration camps. Some of the children were losing respect for their parents due to the conditions in their new environment.