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When the prisoners arrived in Gleiwitz, they were cold, hungry, and tired. The ration of bread they carried during the evacuation from Buna was exhausted and at the barracks, they were given no food or water. The situation was dire, and most of the prisoners died including Juliek, the young Polish violinist. However, the prevailing situation did not stop the SS from subjecting the prisoners to an impromptu selection. Those who looked fit were signaled to the right while those who appeared weak were waved to the left. Eliezer’s father was among those who were waved to the left.
Eliezer showed his full commitment to stay with his father by risking his life and running towards him. An SS officer shouted at Eliezer, but he was determined to join his father. At that point, Eliezer hoped that they would both live, but if they were to die, he was ready to die beside his father. Fortunately, Eliezer’s actions created pandemonium when the SS pursued him into the crowd. The situation provided the prisoners with an opportunity to switch sides. Eliezer’s father switched sides and once again father and son survived the selection.
In Elie Wiesel's Night, the selection at Gleiwitz happens late in the book. The prisoners have been on a long, deadly forced march in freezing weather. Many died along the way. After reaching Gleiwitz, the Nazis conduct this selection to weed out the weakest of the survivors.
When Elie’s father is told to go to the left (the side for those “selected”), Elie runs to his side. This creates enough confusion for both of them to slip back over to the right (safe) side. This was done at great risk to his own safety, as this excerpt attests:
Several SS men rushed to find me, creating such confusion that a number of people were able to switch over the right—among them my father and I. Still, there were gunshots and some dead.
Wiesel does not say that he ran to his father’s side for the purpose of saving him. Throughout the story he has stressed the idea that he and his father have tried desperately to remain together. It may be that he ran to his father’s side simply to be with him, regardless of the consequences. Their escape to the right might have been a bit of luck, Wiesel doesn’t say.
Elie's devotion to his father will be tested later as his father weakens. This scene helps establish the contrast in Elie's behavior as concentration camp life wears down him down psychologically and emotionally.
Shortly afterwards, the survivors are loaded onto cattle cars. Of the approximately one-hundred prisoners in Elie’s car, only 12 (including Elie and his father) survive the brutal trip to Buchenwald.
When Elie's father is sent to the left to die with the weak, Elie, who had been sent to the right, breaks rank and runs after him. SS officers pursue him, and in the ensuing confusion, many of those on the left side, including Elie and his father, are able to come back to the right undetected. Under the strain of the brutal conditions of the camps, Elie, concerned with his own survival, had begun to view his father as an encumbrence to that end. Realizing with horror that an acquaintance, Rabbi Eliahou, had been actually abandoned by his own son, he had prayed not to be allowed to degenerate to that point. Elie's action in risking his life for his father proves that he still cares for his father very much; his commitment to him is still strong and he will not abandon him.
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