With reference to Elie Wiesel's Night, what is a "pipel?"

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anytime a category of people is subjected to extreme pressure—and the Holocaust took the concept of extreme pressure to new and unheard of heights—there will invariably be a small minority of that group who seek self-preservation through collaboration. In the vast network of concentration camps established by Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s, that small minority were the kapos and sonderkommando, the former Jewish prisoners who served the Nazis by helping to administer the ghettos and prisons, often employing great brutality against their fellow Jews. Whereas the sonderkommando were collaborators to a degree in their execution of the incomprehensibly horrific task of disposing of the victims of the gas chambers, the kapos were more zealous in their mission of controlling their fellow Jews in support of Nazi determination to rid Europe of its small Jewish population. 

In Elie Wiesel's autobiographical depiction of life in the concentration camps, Night, kapos play, as they should, a major role in the author's recollections of the brutality to which he and millions of other European Jews were subjected. Kapos carried a certain rank among their fellow prisoners, and were rewarded by the Germans for their willingness to help control and murder their fellow Jews. Among those rewards were young boys to serve at the kapos' pleasure, the former's physical beauty suggesting that the latter enjoyed certain sexual pleasures at the boys' expense, in return for which the boys would receive preferential treatment. These boys were called "pipels," and Wiesel describes one in particular as follows:

The Oberkapo of the Fifty-second Cable Kommando was a Dutchman: a giant of a man, well over six feet. He had some seven hundred prisoners under his command, and they all loved him like a brother. Nobody had ever endured a blow or even an insult from him.

In his "service" was a young boy, a pipel, as they were called. This one had a delicate and beautiful face—an incredible sight in this camp.

Wiesel will continue to relate the story of this particular pipel, who, in contrast to most of them, was kind and not known for exploiting his position at the expense of others. Whereas other pipels were known to exhibit cruelty against even members of their own families, this one was, in the author's words, "beloved by all."

A "pipel," then, was a young boy conscripted into the service of an adult Jewish collaborator who received preferential treatment in exchange for serving his adult master, including through sexual exploitation. 

liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although you may not find the word "pipel" in a standard English dictionary, you can get a sense of what it means from the novel Night:

In his "service" was a young boy, a pipel, as they were called. This one had a delicate and beautiful face—an incredible sight in this camp.

So, a pipel is a young boy who works as an assistant and gets certain rewards. We assume that these boys get their special positions by being very physically attractive and by being subservient to the older men whom they serve.

This particular "pipel" is one who serves the overseer at Buna, has a beautiful appearance that reminds the narrator of an angel, and suffers a terrible death as punishment for being involved in some kind of sabotage.

When you consider the existence of this "angelic" pipel, his own brutal behavior toward his own father, and his terrible torture and death, you start to understand the intensity of the narrator's despair and the confusing, chaotic nature of his struggle to maintain his faith in humanity.