In Night by Elie Wiesel, What was Elie's main thought as the men and women were being herded from the train in Birkenau?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In section II of Elie Wiesel's memoir Night, the author reflects upon the effects of removing dignity, respect, and humanity from people. His basic argument in this section is that the Jews are being treated so badly, and with such disgust, that it causes the victims to see themselves as lesser and disgusting. Because of this, the victims begin to act in ways that are derogatory and humiliating. In other words, the psychological abuse that the victims face make them view themselves under the same light that the abusers see them. These are the basic dynamics of the abuser/victim relationship.

According to Wiesel, the Jewish community was not only disenfranchised from their homes and from their belongings, but also from their basic pride, self-respect, and their sense of community. Wiesel notes how, for the first time, he is seeing human nature manifest from its rawest core. Cruelty and evil can only conceive more cruelty and more evil. As a result, the men and women whom the young Elie witnesses begin to transform in front of his very eyes; all of this chaos is caused by the frustration and by the terror that permeate the minds of those who are being so cruelly victimized for no reason. 

Caged into carts like animals and packed together under unbearable conditions, the victims begin to act irrationally; some begin to let their inhibitions lose by acting in a depraved manner, while others start showing the first signs of desperation. This is a shock to Eli, and becomes the focal point of his observations. He is shocked at the hysterical reactions of Madame Schächter, and at the way that the men are driven to savagely beat her to silence in more than one occasion. He concludes, henceforth, that desperation has made the victims react how the Nazis expect them to react; as inhuman and substandard.

However, there is another point in this section which is worthy of consideration. It comes from the stories spread by Moshe the Beadle: the possible existence of human furnaces in the concentration camp. Although Moshe is regarded as a mere talker, deep in the subconscious level of the victims they do not doubt that the Nazis could get to that extreme of evil. When Madame Schächter loses control and starts to scream, she screams about seeing the smoke of the furnaces. Wiesel is certainly as terrified of the idea, as the others are, but none of the men or women can actually conceptualize this possibility. Yet, this is indeed a second preoccupation in Elie's already shocked mind.